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FWC Considers Banning Commercial Sale Of Tegus, Green Iguanas

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants to ban the commercial sale of tegus and green iguanas. The creatures are invasive species that have negatively impacted Florida’s wildlife.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants to ban the commercial sale of tegus and green iguanas. The creatures are invasive species that have negatively impacted Florida’s wildlife.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is considering banning people from buying tegus and green iguanas to keep as pets. According to the FWC, 10,000 tegus have been removed from Florida's wilderness since 2012. Part of the problem is that the creatures do well in the state's subtropical climate. Chris Farrell with Audubon Florida says the reptiles are very harmful to the environment.

"Argentine black and white tegus eat eggs of listed species like gopher tortoises, and also they create a nuisance for private property owners," Farrell says.

And he says other reptiles like pythons and green iguanas are also a problem. Farrell says these critters came through the pet trade—meaning they either escaped from captivity or were released into the wild.

"Businesses can cease to function, and animals can, unfortunately, be abandoned or left behind. So, if we have people continuing breeding these species, that is definitely going to increase the number of escapees to the wild," Farrell says.

His group supports a proposal by the FWC to place tegus and green iguanas on the prohibited species list. That would ban people from buying the creatures as pets. And breeding them for sale would be phased out over three years. Farrell says that's to lessen the ban's impact on businesses.

"There's a lot of other lizards; there are a lot of other snakes that are in the pet trade. So hopefully, they could adjust their business model and switch over to species that aren't prohibited and hopefully ones that we don't think would become the next problem," Farrell says.

"It's kind of a slap in the face in a way like these people have worked, myself included, have worked very hard," Hector Berrios says. He's a tegu breeder based in Pinellas County. "We enjoy it we love these creatures, and we produce these animals, and then it's like yeah, well just, do something else then. You know, it's very condescending."

Berrios says he mainly sells his tegus to international buyers. He says the ban would put his business in a tight spot.

"It could potentially put me out of business. I would say that 90% of my sales or more are tegus right now. I have other animals but at a very small scale comparatively," Berrios says.

Berrios says responsible owners go above and beyond to make sure their pets don't escape. He's hoping instead of a ban, the FWC will consider requiring people to have permits to buy tegus.

"You make it a little harder for the average person to own them, which, you know, is unfortunate, but if they're trying to take measures to prevent future population growth, then maybe that's a better approach," Berrios says.

Amir Soleymani, who owns the store, XYZ Reptiles in Palmetto Bay, has a different proposal for the FWC.

“It would make sense to say no Florida sales of black and white tegus, you know, have them for export only," Soleymani says.

The FWC is considering banning the sale of not just tegus and green iguanas but also pythons, green anacondas, and Nile monitors. Soleymani says adding all those creatures to the prohibited species list is going to impact his business.

"That just doesn't bode well for a business that's growing, that hires local employees and also, is one of the few businesses that everything for that business is made in the USA. From the food to the caging to the boxes that we ship the animals in. So, it's just kind of hurting a lot of different businesses," Soleymani says.

"Even if most people are responsible, we've seen what's happened. These animals have escaped," Farrell says. "We also have to ask is it fair for these highly invasive species to be legal and for private individuals and property owners and the public to have to bear the responsibility of dealing with the problems they create."

The FWC spends nearly a million dollars a year managing tegus. The organization's proposal would still allow people to trap wild tegus and green iguanas and sell them. People who already have tegus and green iguanas can keep them as pets by getting a permit at no cost.

Copyright 2021 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Robbie Gaffney