Large lizard among most unique pets taken in by shelter, supervisor says

Dr. Jena Troxler, supervisor of the St. Charles Parish Animal Shelter, called the recent capture of an escaped tegu the second most unique pet that the shelter has taken in.

“We have had a stray African savannah monitor that was about four feet and highly aggressive. He was able to bend bars of a wire kennel and had to have other containment arranged in the shelter,” she said. “Last week we also were called out to a stray sulcata tortoise that dug an escape after the hard rains. 

“He likely weighed 200 pounds at 16 years old!”

The tegu, which is a large lizard, was spotted by a resident in her front garden. She immediately texted Troxler, who stopped by the home on her way to work.

“I initially brought a pillowcase to contain the lizard without realizing the size based on the picture,” Troxler said.

Troxler said when she arrived she realized that she would need something bigger, so she used a dog kennel.

“The tegu was reactive when approached, but other than that was just hanging out,” she added.

The tegu fled from the garage where he resided the night before he was spotted in the garden. Though the owner’s dogs barked to alert that the tegu was leaving the property, the owner didn’t realize the lizard had escaped, Troxler said.

It wandered about four streets away from home before it was captured.

When the shelter takes in exotic pets such as the tegu, they hold the animal on a five-day stray hold. During that time they work on transferring the animal to those in the exotic field they trust with care and proper rehoming.

“Typically with exotics we get multiple claims on one pet, especially tortoises,” Troxler said. “Many think that they are the only ones with a sulcata, and when lost years prior they believe we found their pet. Their shells are like fingerprints and we require pictures to show matching color patterns on all exotics to assure the return to the rightful owner. We always encourage microchipping with their exotic’s veterinarian so they can be located immediately if the pet enters our care. 

“However, we haven’t found one exotic yet that has a microchip.”

Troxler said the tegus are native to South America, and once a population explodes in the wild where they do not belong, they can become a threat to the natural ecosystem.

“Also they aren’t friendly, as they have natural survival instincts,” she said. “A legal hold simply refers to the animal shelter has the legal authority in this parish to intake pets and assure the owner has a central location to find and reclaim. It’s illegal to find a pet and take it to another parish or give away.”