Efforts to control Tegu lizard invasion in Tampa

Tampa, Fla. -- An invasive species has made eastern Tampa its new home and there are several local efforts to eradicate them.

The Tegu, a large lizard from South America that eats nearly everything and breeds quickly, is nesting in the Riverview area Parklands.

Florida Fish and Wildlife said there might be hundreds, if not thousands, of Tegus by the end of this year. They lay 25-50 eggs at a time and March is their breeding season.

People can buy the Tegus in pet stores, but the problem is people buy them as pets and, when they get too big, they set them free in the wild and then they breed. They are potentially destroying Florida's ecosystems.

Some animals, especially gopher tortoises, are becoming scarce in areas where they were once common to see. FWC is worried they will be eaten up.

A local University of Tampa associate biology professor started skinning them with his team two years ago. He found out after two years, and trapping 36 in one area that he would process them and skin them to see if the skins were worth anything, and then donate that money to more research.

"That was to see if we could figure out if it was possible to make enough money off of selling their skins to return that money to the project and do things like replace traps, buy bait like chicken eggs, mileage, but it looks like the time we spent doing this and the money we spent on the equipment is going to be prohibitive because the skins aren't worth very much," said Campbell.

Each panel of skin, about 8" x 10", sells for $40, but it cost Campbell and his team $800 a panel to make.

"It doesn't look like it's going to work," said Campell. "The skins are beautiful, but it's not an economically viable option."

A reptile educator, Brian Pavlina, and his buddies with a local wildlife protection group chased down a wild Tegu a year ago Easter Sunday in the Riverview area.

"It took us eight hours to catch this one," said Pavlina.

He caught "Beast" to save him from being trapped and euthanized by FWC, and also to use to educate the public and children about invasive species and the damage they do to Florida's natural habitat.


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