Georgia pet owners are being encouraged to register their pet reptiles after neighborhood children discovered a three-foot-long lizard living under a porch in Athens last month.
The Argentine black and white tegu was trapped and given to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources after no one claimed the reptile, the agency said in a news release.
The lizard, which is native to South America, is invasive and threatens protected species in Georgia, according to the government agency’s Wildlife Resources Division.
“There are concerns as well that tegus could spread exotic parasites to native wildlife and cause bacterial contamination of crops,” the agency said. “Research shows that these reptiles, like most, carry salmonella.”
The homeowner was not even aware of the tegu until the neighborhood children told her about about a “giant lizard” in her yard, according to the agency.
“It’s unclear if it escaped or was released, which is illegal,” the agency said.
“This is definitely an example of why we need to regulate these species,” Dr. Brett Albanese of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said. “They can be difficult to keep and as they grow their owners may not want to care for them or be able to afford to.”
On Tuesday, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources announced a deadline requiring pet owners to tag and register six newly regulated reptile species.
Since last December, Nile monitors, African helmeted turtles, Chinese softshell turtles, Argentine black and white tegus, and Indian rock and Burmese pythons have been listed as wild animals in Georgia, the agency said.
The grace period for pet owners to tag their animals with a passive integrated transponder tag and then register them with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources ends at midnight on Dec. 3, the agency said.
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