Volunteer Dan holding the black throat monitor
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Iguana Under a Car?

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I ran the Charm City Reptile and Amphibian Rescue for 14 years (no longer in operation). Here is a story about a rescued monitor lizard.

I answered the phone and it was a frantic person who was sitting in their car, afraid to get out.

The person said, “I saw a big iguana run under my car!!!”

I asked, “Where are you?”

“In MY CAR!!!!:

“No, where in town are you?”

The guy told me and it was only about two miles or less from my house. Damn. The last thing I needed was another iguana. It was a Sunday, so I had a volunteer. Today it was Dan.

Dan and I hopped into my car and we drove to the location.

Dan asked, “How will we know where the car is?”

I said, “It’s probably where that crowd of people is over there.” I pointed ahead and to the left.

“Good observation.”

We parked and got out of the car. We had our supplies: a pet carrier, big gloves, a long hook. Dan took the far side and I took the near side. We simultaneously looked under the car and at the same time yelled, “That’s not an iguana!!”

Yes, it was not an iguana! It looked a little like a Savannah monitor only darker. It was a black throat monitor! Sweet. We never had one of those before. They are much nicer than iguanas but get pretty big. It probably escaped from someone.

When I tried to grab it, it ran towards Dan. When Dan tried to grab it, it ran towards me. Eventually, it just ran out of steam. Dan ended up with the capture.

It was dirty, scared and probably hungry. Only about 15-20 inches long, it wasn’t very old.

I gave my card to the guy, who was finally able to get out of his car. I told him to call me if the owner came forward, but that didn’t happen. What did he think would happened to him if he got out of the car? Did he think that the “iguana” was going to grab his foot and drag him under the car? Maybe it would run up and bite him?

I kept that animal for several years. We named him Blackie Black Throat. He escaped from every cage he was ever in while living at my house! Most lizards are curious and will take the opportunity to escape when presented. But Blackie—he was smart. I always called him a problem solver.

The brother of a friend built his first cage. It was wooden and ¼” hardware cloth (metal mesh). The cage was on its side, because the door was on the top when it was used as a guinea pig cage. We put extra newspaper on top of the hardware cloth on the bottom of the cage. The black throat was able to pick the lock, and I found him basking on top of the cage one day. He knocked over all kinds of stuff in the iguana room. There was a broken light on the floor. Bad lizard!

He later moved into one of the custom-designed and built cages, made by my friend Mike. The cage was a three feet square base and was seven feet tall. Mike originally built the cages for iguanas, which are not so smart. The screened top was attached with big staples. It was screened so that UV lights could be put on top of the cages for the iguanas to bask. Mike spent a lot of time building those cages. The iguanas had to live in crates for a few weeks during construction. They were four amazing cages, built to fit the size of the room, and were used for many years.

I put a ladder in the cage, made of a two-by-four with pieces of cork bark attached for stairs. I wondered out loud how long it would take Blackie to figure out that it was a ladder. Before the words were out of my mouth, he was up the ladder and basking on the shelf near the light. He was awesome.

Then there was the time when a medical research lab donated “control” lab rodents. At first, I didn’t realize they had metal ear tags on them. By the time I noticed—oops, my bad—Blackie had eaten three of them! Fortunately, he never had any issues with that.

One day I was feeding the animals. I went to feed Blackie but he wasn’t in the cage. In disbelief, I looked under the newspaper substrate, knowing he wasn’t there. I looked in the hide log. Nope. I looked around the room. There was no “path of destruction” which was normally found when an animal got loose.

I’ll be the first to admit it. When you have a ton of animals and a bunch of volunteers, eventually you’ll have a loose animal. It is inevitable. I had the door to the “iguana room” (as we called it) open for cross ventilation. It was the heat of the summer. I had my sliding glass door open for a little while so I wasn’t even sure the animal was still in my house! Oh boy! I had no idea how to find him.

I looked under my bed, my room being across the hall from the iguana room. Sometimes cats will go up into the box spring of a mattress. I checked. No holes under the box spring. I quickly ran downstairs and closed the sliding glass door.

I was now in a panic. The 15” monitor was now about four feet. How could he be so elusive? He was huge! I searched everywhere. I looked in every closet and in every room in the house.

Some friends came over and we searched again for about a half hour. How many places can a four-foot creature hide? I was afraid to leave my poor greyhound alone in the house for fear there would be a confrontation. But, I did have to leave the next day. I worried the whole time I was at my part-time job. When I got home, I searched again to no avail.

I called my friend Tom. He used to run a wildlife capture and removal business. Tom came over and we searched again with flashlights. He loaned me a groundhog trap. It was now day four and there was no sign of the animal. I was beginning to think he got out of the house. Maybe he went through the closet to the basement or somehow got up in the attic crawl space. I did not want to have a dead animal in my house somewhere!

Tom baited the trap and put it in the hallway between my room and the iguana room. Now we had to leave the iguana room door open so he could find his way to the trap. I didn’t like the idea of trapping him. Blackie was a lot longer than a groundhog and I thought he might injure his tail. But, I was running out of options.

It was now day five. My friend Speedy came over and brought me some rodents. He said, “Let’s try and find the monitor.”

We walked up the steps and both of us looked in amazement. Blackie was standing next to the trap, head cocked to the side, trying to figure out how to get the bait that was in the trap.

Speedy lunged for it and grabbed him. We decided that Blackie went feral on us! He thrashed around like I’d never seen in all the times I handled him over the past few years. Of course, he couldn’t go back into the cage without modifications. We had to put screws and wood to hold down the screening on top of the cage.

Mike said I voided the warranty by putting a monitor in an iguana cage!

Eventually, when he reached about six feet in length, Blackie was adopted by the Philadelphia Zoo for its educational outreach. As of this writing, he is doing great and a real people pleaser!

Please leave your comments below. 

Read more by Holli Friedland.

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