Florida is banning the practice of keeping invasive reptiles like iguanas and tegus as pets, but those who already own one of these scaly guys need not worry too much. The pets can be grandfathered in if you get them tagged with a microchip. This may sound like a mishmash of Alex Jones conspiracy theories, but it’s the real deal and an attempt to get invasive species under control. State officials are trying to make it easy to do so, too.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has established Tag Your Reptile Days. On these five days, spread out from late May to late June, Florida residents can show up at five locations around the state, including three zoos, an aquarium, and an animal hospital to get their cold-blooded homies registered and chipped for free. Owners can bring up to five pets per person. Maybe they’ll hand out little “I got microchipped” stickers to match the ones from covid-19 vaccination sites.
“Just as with cats and dogs, microchipping your green iguana or tegu is one of the simplest and most effective ways to keep them safe while also protecting Florida’s native wildlife,” said Kristen Sommers, who leads the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Wildlife Impacts Management Section, said in a statement.
The initiative is specifically for 16 reptile species that the state recently banned the breeding, ownership, and sale of. Among the group are green iguanas, all kinds of tegus, several kinds of pythons, and green anacondas. This isn’t unfair discrimination, though. These animals have been released in the wild by careless owners or by being wily enough to escape. Iguanas have also become nuisances in urban areas, particularly on cold days when they become stunned and can fall out of trees. But the real issue is the damage they’re doing to the state’s delicate and rare ecosystems like the Everglades. That includes preying on native species, as they’ve gobbled up local birds, fish, amphibians, and even deer. The invasive species can also pass on diseases to native wildlife.
State officials have attempted to clamp down on the problem by killing non-native reptiles, notably through python hunts in the Everglades and shoot to kill orders for iguanas. Those hunts have provoked controversy, though, and the new restrictions on reptiles are pissing some people off, too. When considering the new rule, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission obtained more than 1,400 written comments. During the February meeting where the commission unanimously passed the rule, they heard from dozens of angry citizens begging them to reconsider the ban because it would hurt the reptile trade, Florida Today reports. That trade, however, is the source of so much of Florida ecosystem’s misery. Conservation groups have come out in support of the new rule in an attempt to reduce pressure on ecosystems.
“It’s just common sense that you can’t succeed in bailing out your canoe without first plugging your hole,” Elise Bennett, a staff attorney for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, said at a hearing.
There are also signs that the reptile trade can lead to the misery of the captive reptiles themselves if not properly cared for.
The new reptile rules went into effect last Thursday, but the state has implemented a 90-day grace period for current owners. Even if owners can’t make it to a tag day, they can apply for a free permit during that time. Pet owners also have 180 days to get up to speed with new regulations mandating that if these species are kept outdoors, they must remain in concrete enclosures rather than roaming free.
The restrictions on the sale and breeding will also be phased in over the coming months, giving businesses time to come into compliance. The total ban on commercial breeding will only go into effect next June. Seems pretty accommodating to me. Plus, imagine how fun it would be to actually see one of these Tag Your Reptile Days in action. A line of people holding big iguanas and snakes? Amazing.