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State requires lizard habitat upgrade; cage to cost $20,000

By CJ HADDAD - | Mar 31, 2022

Green Day, an iguana that has lived 10-plus years at Rotary Park after falling out of a tree, will get a new cage that meets new state requirements related to invasive species. If the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife and Rotary Club of Cape Coral had not committed the $20,000 cost, Green Day would have faced a dark day indeed as the alternative was to be euthanized by Florida Fish and Wildlife.

It seems as if the reptiles that call Rotary Park in Cape Coral home will remain where they are despite updated regulations mandated by the state will cost major dollars to keep them there.

Green Day, an iguana that has lived 10-plus years at Rotary Park after falling out of a tree a more than a decade ago, could be in danger of being euthanized by Florida Fish and Wildlife if his cage, and the cages of other reptiles that share the space, are not updated to fit new standards.

Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife’s Cheryl Anderson said their organization, along with Rotary Club of Cape Coral, have agreed to foot the bill for upgrades totaling nearly $20,000. City officials confirmed to The Breeze that permits for the new enclosure have been expedited, approved, and that work will begin today.

Anderson said FWC gave them a deadline of this upcoming Wednesday, but hope the start of the construction process will deter them from removing the reptiles until the process is complete.

FWC came up with new regulations in 2021 pertaining to 16 different invasive species — green iguanas, Nile monitor lizards, and species of tortoise included.

An email was sent to the city on Feb. 2 of 2022 detailing the need for modification for an updated enclosure that is “escape proof.” FWC also stated that the city had to renew its conditional/prohibited/nonnative species permit.

The fear of losing a long-time resident in Green Day, as well as the Nile monitor lizards and a tortoise named Ned, was unsettling for CCFW and members of the public to think about.

“We have people come in every day bringing money in, and they’re in tears about what Green Day’s fate may be,” said Anderson, who works at Rotary Park nearly every day. “This is a very emotional issue. Green Day is a mascot for Rotary Park, one of the busiest parks in the city. People have known him for years. People bring food for him. People are donating because this matters to them.”

Anderson said Green Day and the other reptiles are a staple of the park, are docile, have never escaped, and are used for educational purposes for residents and visitors alike.

“It’s a really valuable educational exhibit for people to see what these animals look like and about their biology,” Anderson said. “In Green Day’s case, to see how big an iguana can get when somebody is looking at buying one in the pet store, and seeing how long they live. It’s one thing to read it in a book, it’s another thing to actually see in person what this wildlife looks like.”

Anderson added that CCFW had hoped FWC would grandfather in their current setup, as they’ve never had an issue with any of their reptiles escaping or hurting anyone. All of the reptiles at Rotary Park are also microchipped.

Green Day first lived in the butterfly garden but outgrew the space after a couple of years. That’s when the current enclosure was built.

CCFW Vice President Pascha Donaldson said while the expense for the new enclosure is steep, it’s something the city and its residents will benefit from for years to come.

CCFW is currently continuing to seek donations to assist with their payment towards helping save these reptiles.

“People come to our city and park from all over and have never seen these animals before and don’t understand why they’re invasive,” Anderson said. “It’s quite an educational exhibit for people that we feel is very valuable. Even though they are invasive, they are wildlife, they are living creatures, they deserve our respect. And it’s amazing to see how many can be emotionally attached to a reptile.”

In a release pertaining to these updated regulations, FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto stated, “These animals are creating enormous issues for our state. I have always been proud that Florida is looked at as a leader. Let’s take a bold stance. We have to put our foot down. The time has come, and we hope other states will follow.”

FWC Commissioner Robert Spottswood, also in the release, stated, “I’m very sensitive to the people in the pet trade and enthusiasts. But this action is a result of the invasive species that continue to get into the wild. We have so many of these species now: pythons, tegus, iguanas. These animals are doing lots of damage and we are incumbent to do something.”

FWC did not immediately respond for comment.

–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj