The Florida Legislature is considering a bill that would eliminate ownership of nine reptile species, including the popular iguana.
Some pet owners, breeders and dealers are upset at the proposal. They claim their industry is a $200 million part of the Florida economy.
Popular pets up for consideration under the ban include bearded dragons, leopard geckos, chameleons and tortoises. The ban would outlaw ownership, breeding and selling of the exotic lizards and snakes on the list. Owners with such pets would be grandfathered in.
The problem is those who breed and sell such exotic species truly don’t care what they may do the environment if they are released into a warm, humid place like Florida. Currently Florida struggles to control green iguanas left to become feral. Nonnative boas are breeding out of control, amassing tremendous size and are threatening many native species. Tegu lizards are another concern.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are collateral damage for unwanted exotic pets. At Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the exotic animal service is the landing spot for police and wildlife agency seizures or abandoned exotic pets. One year, we had two alligators delivered from people who didn’t want them anymore.
Big snakes are another issue. One year, we inherited two very large boas. One was abandoned outside near Clarkston and was nearly 11 feet long. A 7-footer was left in a rental house when the people left.
Iguanas are fairly common. Thought of as a cool pet by some of the university students, they soon learn that after a while that can turn on you. Iguanas, like all animals, need proper nutrition. If they are fed a steady diet of beer and nachos, they get metabolic disease that affects many systems.
When messed with a lot, they learn to whip their long tails toward the harasser’s eyes with blinding accuracy.
When spring arrives, sometimes these pets are left behind or surrendered to us. So we inherit a sick, angry lizard a long way from where it belongs.
Should it survive, it will be sent to another licensed care provider or responsible owner. The cost of such care is born by the state, in part because it still represents a teaching opportunity for veterinary students.
Perhaps the most abandoned pet in our two cities is fish. Dumped into local ponds or waterways, they often die or overpopulate places like the Shattuck Arboretum ponds on the University of Idaho campus.
Cats and kittens are also left behind in and around apartments and neighborhoods when students or others leave.
In the end, pets acquired as cool props for a seasonal reality show existence will suffer at your hand.
Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service.