Waging war against the Nile monitor in Florida

Waging war against the Nile monitor in Florida

GLEN RIDGE, FL (WFLX) - The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is trying to eradicate the Nile monitor lizard from Palm Beach County.

Biologists with the agency started taking surveys in July of 2014.

Since then, they've caught at least 20 Nile monitors.

Non-native species biologists travel up and down waterways in Palm Beach County, keeping track of where the lizards are living, and catching them if possible.

"They have very sharp claws and sharp teeth. You wouldn't want to try to catch one in your Florida room or try to handle one," says Kelly Gestring, a non-native wildlife biologist with the FWC.

"So far this population seems to be small enough that there is a reasonable chance that we can eliminate this particular population," he says.

The agency makes several trips throughout the month, some of which travel along the West Palm Beach Canal.

The waterway runs along Southern Boulevard.

Tara Lawrence lives in a home that borders the canal.

"I just heard a rustle. Then his head came up right about here," she says.

What she saw coming out of the canal was a Nile monitor lizard.

"Soon as he saw me, he took off. And was in the water, swimming away," she says.

Her step-father, Peter Harholdt, also saw the lizard.

"It was startling to see this large creature walking around," Peter says.

He says it was almost as large as his three golden retrievers.

"In the torso, sort of similar bulk. Big, big lizard," he adds.

Biologists with the FWC visited Peter's neighborhood, warning residents about the lizards.

"They told us they were here, they're non-native and they can be a little dangerous," Peter explains.

The lizards are especially dangerous to some of Florida's protected species like the burrowing owl and gopher tortoise.

Biologists say they love to feed on the animals' eggs.

"They eat a variety of prey items. They really like eggs," Kelly with the FWC says.

The agency is asking for residents help in keeping track of where the lizards are.

If you spot a Nile monitor, you're asked to take a picture of it from a safe distance and report it to IveGot1.org or by phone at 888-Ive-Got1 (888-483-4681).

The lizard is native to Africa, and can grow more than 5 feet long.

Its body can be different colors, from a light yellow to dark olive or brown.

They also have a pattern of light markings on the back, which look like bands or stripes closer to its head and tail.

Nile monitors are not naturally aggressive, but biologists say they will defend themselves if aggravated or threatened.

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