Saturday, June 19, 2010

Small species can be big problem

By Kylie Gach

Imagine going into your bathroom and opening up your toilet lid to find a Cuban tree frog jump at you, or having that Cuban tree frog clog your sink.

As an assistant professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Florida, Steve Johnson hears humorous stories like these all the time.

“People aren’t happy when they go in the bathroom and find a frog in the toilet,” he said.

Invasive, also known as exotic, animals are becoming a more widespread problem. There are 50 non-native amphibians and reptiles found in south Florida alone.

Reptiles such as iguanas and Burmese pythons look intriguing behind the glass at the pet store, but they pose a threat to ecosystems.

A big way that many of these invasive animals are coming here is through the pet industry.

“Inspectors look at the imports, but less than 10 percent of the imports are looked at and half of the time we don’t know exactly what they are,” Johnson said.

Many people purchase these exotic animals as pets, but these aren’t the fuzzy, little lovey-dovey creatures you might want. Over time, they become a nuisance and turn out to be aggressive and hard-to-manage animals.

The Nile Monitor, when you purchase it in the pet store, it is probably around six inches. But in a few years, you may find yourself with an intimidating reptile that is around the size of a small alligator and needs to be fed rats or bunnies.

These animals all have their own unique way of escaping from their owners. When they escape, they can find their new habitat harsh and may not be able to adapt to their new surroundings.
Weather harms many of these new species, such as iguanas. During the summer, they get the heat they are used to; however, during the winter, they are used to in Central and South America.

During winters, some people see iguanas dropping from trees because they lost their heat. Some of these iguanas come back and live through the cold.

“Just the weather alone is not a solution because you will always have that small majority that survives,” Johnson said.

Some people find that releasing their pets into the wild is the easiest solution. But, once they are released, they grow and repopulate. People don’t realize that there are other ways to get rid of their dilemma.

In most cases, pet stores will allow you to return your unwanted pets. If you cannot return it to the pet store, you can find it a new home. Even though you may not be able to care for your pet, that doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t have the ability to.

Contacting animal control or a wildlife agency may also be an option. They may not always have the equipment to take your pet, but they may be able to provide you with advice.
Euthanasia is also an option. If you can’t find someone to take your pet, you can have a qualified veterinarian euthanize your pet.

People’s knowledge of these exotic animals and what they are doing is a huge part of these invasive animals’ takeover. Knowing what to do and how to handle situations plays a huge role in making sure that our native animals stay safe where they are.

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