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Iguana study planned

BOCA BEACON (Florida) 14 January 05
     Lee County Animal Services is stalking Boca Grande's spiny tailed iguanas one step at a time. "The final solution may be a big capture, but we're still taking baby steps to get to that point," said Animal Services director Scott Trebatoski. "We want to make sure everything is in place before we take that step."
     The agency has enlisted the help of Dr. Jerry Jackson, a biologist at Florida Gulf Coast University.
     "Our intention is to go to the island on a fact-finding mission with Dr. Jackson, take pictures and collect animals for him to study what they're eating," Trebatoski said. "We'll make assessments of their living conditions and numbers. We've got to get permits before we do that, but we're hoping to go in the next couple of weeks."
     Permits are required because the island is a wildlife sanctuary. While the iguanas, being an invasive exotic species, aren't protected, their capture might disturb other species that are.
     Trebatoski said an avalanche of year-end paperwork unrelated to the iguana issue was holding him up.
     Also delaying the collecting expedition was a misunderstanding about the action authorized at the Dec. 14 board of county commissioners meeting.
     "The blue sheet as written authorized us and any other county department to go in, but there was some confusion when Commissioner Bob Janes talked about that other group," Trebatoski said. He was referring to Scales and Tails, a private "reptile rescue" organization from Clearwater, which conducted an unsuccessful roundup attempt in December.
     "Provide direction and/or authorization to Lee County staff to proceed with activities for the removal of iguana from Gasparilla Island, as such are becoming grossly over-populated with the non-native reptiles," the blue sheet read. It made no mention of Scales and Tails.
     Trebatoski didn't know if the motion the board voted on was an amended motion. If it was, the blue sheet had to be changed.
     "To do that, somebody would have had to make a motion, and I didn't recall that taking place," Trebatoski said, "but things go so fast you can't tell."
     Without the motion to amend, the wording went through the way it was written. But Trebatoski wasn't taking any chances.
     "Both Kristie Kroslack in the county attorney's office, and I didn't think we heard a motion to change language, but we waited for the official record from the clerk of court," he explained.
     The Animal Services expedition will experiment with several ways to collect the iguanas, including traps, nets, nooses and tongs. "A lot of it we might not even use," Trebatoski said. "We'll take a couple of employees and be as creative as possible."
     Still undecided is what will happen to the iguanas once they're caught. While people from south of the border consider them a delicacy, that solution may not be acceptable to a few vocal animal-lovers.
     Scales and Tails' plan to tame the wild reptiles and give them away as pets wouldn't have worked, Trebatoski said. He cited Melissa Kaplan, author of Iguanas for Dummies, who wrote: "The spiny tailed iguanas tend to be nasty and not tameable like their bigger, green iguana (Iguana iguana) cousins."
     Although they can grow to be over 4 feet long, the spiny tailed iguanas aren't the largest reptiles Trebatoski has faced.
     "We brought in q 14-foot python a year-and-a-half ago. It was so big, it took four of us to lift it," he said. "I'm sure the escaped reptiles we see are only a small fraction what's out there. The climate and food supply in Southwest Florida sustains exotic wildlife."