Fugitive monitor lizard still on the run

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Thursday, September 30, 2010
— Amber Downing wasn’t sure what she was looking at.

After being alerted by her barking dogs, Downing on Tuesday afternoon found a 4-foot monitor lizard in her back yard at 613 Williams St.

“It was sticking its tongue out at the poodle and hissing,’’ Downing said.

As her terrier ran indoors, Downing grabbed her poodle and put it inside before shutting the back door and going back outside.

“I literally stared at this thing, wondering if I was crazy. All I could think was that somebody put this in my backyard as a prank. You don’t see stuff like this in Wisconsin,’’ she said.

Jim Hurley, operations manager at the Rock County Humane Society, said it’s unlikely the reptile—believed to be either a white- or black-throated lizard—can survive long in this weather.

“They need 88 to 92 degrees consistently. It’s going to get hypothermia and die,’’ he said.

Downing, 30, got within 10 feet of the lizard and estimated it was 3.5 to 4 feet long and about 60 pounds.

She called her mother, who told her to call animal control. Unable to find a phone number, she dialed 911.

“Don’t laugh at me because my mom already did,’’ she told the dispatcher.

While Downing waited for police, she found a hole under her chain-link fence where the lizard crawled into her neighbor’s yard.

“I went to her house to tell her what was going on, and we watched for it to come out from the wooded area between our two yards,” she said.

The lizard wasn’t seen again until 9:20 p.m. Tuesday. Tracy Smith was driving in the area of Hyatt and Thomas streets when the headlights of Smith’s vehicle revealed a “large green lizard 4.5 to 5 feet long,” said Lt. Terrence Sheridan of the Janesville Police Department.

Smith watched the lizard escape into the sewer drain at the corner of Hyatt and Thomas, Sheridan said.

Police said people should not approach the lizard.

“Give us a call so we can come and catch the thing,” Sheridan said.

Police most likely would use a dog snare to capture the lizard if they can get close enough, he said.

“It’s the same thing we use to catch any wild animal,’’ Sheridan said.

Initially, the lizard was thought to be an iguana or small alligator, Sheridan said.

Police believe the lizard is not wild and is used to being around humans.

“We’re assuming it was somebody’s pet they let loose because it got too big or somehow it escaped,” Sheridan said.

Hurley said the humane society gets called up to five times a year to capture monitor lizards of varying sizes.

Judging from the picture, “this is probably the biggest monitor lizard in recent memory,’’ he said. “He is a big boy.

“Normally, people who have the smaller lizards don’t need to let them outside and can let them wander in their house. Once they get big, they need to exercise. I’m sure someone took it out to the backyard without a harness or the lizard bit the harness off and took off.”

Anyone bitten by the lizard would have “a nasty cut” and need antibiotics, Hurley said.

“There’s a ton of different bacteria they have.’’

City ordinances prohibit the possession of a vicious, wild or exotic animal. Violations carry a $389.50 fine, police said.

Last updated: 2:50 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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