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Pssst .... Wanna Buy a Monitor Lizard?

By Steve Fagin

Publication: theday.com

Published August 30. 2013 4:00AM

During decades of rambling about on land and water I've been chased, harassed and/or nearly eviscerated, at last count, by 1,837 different species in the animal kingdom, including a grizzly bear in Alaska, runaway yaks in Nepal, a shark in Long Island Sound, a bull moose in Maine, numerous copperhead snakes, an angry bull, whiteface hornets, overly protective swans guarding their nests, a veritable kennel of dogs ranging from Chihuahuas to Rottweilers, dive-bombing terns, and once, by a chicken that ran after me for nearly a mile – what was THAT all about?

Had I been paying attention to police warnings earlier this summer I might have been even more apprehensive about animal attacks, considering that one of the most fearsome predators roamed near one of my regular running routes – a monitor lizard.

Authorities shot and killed the 3-4-foot-long reptile last week after a Ledyard resident called 911 to report an "alligator" was attacking chickens in her backyard coop.

The lizard apparently had escaped a month or more earlier from a home where it likely had been kept as a pet, prompting authorities to issue a BOLO (be on the lookout) for a nasty, Godzilla-like creature with lightning-fast reflexes, powerful jaws and a whipping tail. Though the critter had been spotted frequently around the eastern part of town, no one reported it missing – not surprising considering that monitors are illegal in Connecticut.

You wouldn't know this detail from the many ads offering monitor lizards for sale that popped up on my computer screen the other day when I researched the reptiles.

"Below is our list of available monitor lizards for sale. You can buy Savannah monitors, Nile monitors, Water monitors, as well as many other incredible species. Highly carnivorous with insatiable appetites, it's always an adventure feeding these lizards. There are very few reptiles as impressive, or as intelligent, as monitors. They are without question some of the most entertaining lizards in the world, and if you buy a monitor lizard from us, it is guaranteed to arrive alive and in excellent condition," one advertisement boasts.

Prices range from $25.99 for a baby Savannah monitor to $6,999.99 for a pair of black dragon water monitors.

Like many states Connecticut bans monitors because they are a threat to humans, pets and native wildlife. They are on a long list of "Category 2" animals that can't be privately owned, including alligators, cobras, vipers, rattlesnakes, pythons and anacondas. The list of "Category 1" animals banned except by licensed zoos and nature centers includes lions, tigers, leopards, wolves, bears and large primates.

Connecticut passed its law in response to the infamous 2009 chimp attack on a woman who sustained horrific injuries to her face and hands, and the legislation went into effect just as the mass shooting of a menagerie of exotic animals set loose by a deranged, suicidal man in Ohio made international headlines.

At that time I found it was almost as easy to buy a Bengal tiger as it is today to buy a monitor lizard, and wrote a blog with a headline similar to this missive.

The sad fact remains: People are repeatedly forced to pass laws to prevent what should be common sense: Nobody should keep wild, dangerous animals as pets.

Not a week goes by that some tragedy befalls an irresponsible pet owner or some unlucky bystander: two young boys crushed by a Burmese python that escaped from a pet store; leopards, lions and tigers mauling their handlers; a killer whale clamping onto a trainer's pony tail and pulling her to her underwater death.

We never seem to learn.

Monitor lizards apparently are brilliant escape artists, judging from various online reports. One woman described a terrifying encounter with a loose one in California, but then went on to ask a lizard dealer if one would be an appropriate pet for her young son.

The dealer said he carried many different types of monitor lizards, some measuring only 2 feet long, while others, such as the crocodile monitor, can grow to 16 feet. Most are carnivorous.

Some are untamable.

I think that's all you need to know.

What I find particularly disturbing is that some people find it entertaining to observe such predators devour the prey on which it must be fed. One online poster described the "glory" of "watching an aroused monitor lizard chasing a big male mouse around the cage."

What fun, for the whole family.

I'm sorry police had to shoot the hapless monitor lizard in Ledyard last week. I'm just as sorry they haven't found the owner.

But I'm not sorry the critter didn't dart out while I ran by one morning and try to clamp onto my leg.

I have enough trouble eluding dogs and chickens.

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