Sept. 14, 2020
Editor’s Note: This is a regular monthly column from Colorado Parks and Wildlife about state parks by a career park ranger.
Rangers go extra miles to help nonnative creature found in danger in campground
By Darcy Mount
Eleven Mile State Park Manager
LAKE GEORGE, Colo. – When new rangers are in training, a common phrase we hear is “we cannot train you for everything that may happen, because anything can happen.”
One of those “anythings” happened in July at Eleven Mile State Park.
I was in my office when a seasonal ranger said a visitor had found an iguana in one of our campgrounds. My first reaction was “sure they did.”
I have responded to calls of eagles struggling in the water. I’ve had a gull wrapped in fishing line. I’ve answered calls about skunks that were actually raccoons. And there was a report of a fox that was, in fact, a Labrador.
So when I heard an inguana had taken up residence in the campground, I was skeptical.
After all, iguanas are heat-loving natives of the tropics. They can’t survive at 8,600 feet altitude, where our average high in January is just 32 degrees and the average low is a brisk -2 degrees. Pretty tough sledding for an animal that can’t regulate its body temperature.
Imagine my surprise when I confirmed there was, in fact, an iguana in our campground. A camper saw it before going to bed one night and then found it the next day on the edge of his boat.
The camper assumed the iguana had escaped from another guest. And it was not a bad guess.
Unbelievably, people bring a lot of different pets on their camping trips: ferrets, snakes, parrots, cats, etc.
The camper watched the iguana and realized it was trying to warm itself by soaking up heat from his metal boat. When he approached the lizard, it didn’t try to run. In fact, it let him pick it up without a fight. He quickly determined the iguana was dangerously cold.
The next big question for us was: “Well, now what?” I assumed it was an escapee from a visitor, so we had to keep it in case someone reported him missing. But we don’t really have an “iguana section” in our Lost and Found box.
So it became my office mate.
Lucky for the iguana that I am a snake keeper and I know the importance of keeping reptiles warm. Even luckier, I happened to have an extra heat lamp handy. The rest of my staff came to the rescue, as well.
Our ranger Derek attached the light to a large dog crate. Then we arranged a space heater to keep the floor warm. Other staff brought in fresh fruits and veggies to feed it.
We named the iguana Miles. Soon as it warmed up, Miles had the run of my office. During the day, Miles alternated between basking under his light and exploring the office. His favorite spot was the back of my chair. He spent hours on it sleeping or looking around.
A not-so-fun fact, I am not a tropical creature. My thermostat runs warm so I like things cool. But to keep Miles alive, I had to turn my office into a sauna.
But there were benefits. For nearly a week I got to enjoy my new, exotic friend. Miles was very sweet. He liked to get pets on his head and back. He ate well and was even comfortable going outside for a few minutes a couple times a day for some UVB from the sun.
Sadly, we can’t keep the pets we find in our campground and Miles ultimately had to be relocated. When no one called to claim it, I called a humane society in Longmont dedicated to reptiles and they agreed to take him.
Miles and I made the trip to Longmont. They confirmed he was a male and a juvenile probably blue and green iguana hybrid.
Society director A.E. Nash is a PhD candidate doing research on iguanas. It was great to hear about the different species and I learned a lot. (Did you know all iguanas sneeze? It is to expel excess salt.)
With Miles in good hands, I turned to the mystery of how he got to Eleven Mile. There’s a remote possibility it stowed away on a boat or camper. That happens with raccoons and birds that build nests in unfortunate places.
It’s also possible Miles got away from a visitor who chose not to report it, assuming he would not survive the night.
My strong suspicion, however, is that Miles was brought here and dumped. This has gone on for more than a century.
Decades ago, miners turned burros loose and the ancestor herds still roam the region around the park today.
Today, goldfish and frogs frequently get dumped in our ponds with devastating ramifications to our native species.
I have heard of horses being let loose in the forest. And people even dump dogs and cats.
All of this is heartbreaking and cruel. I can’t imagine how anyone justifies turning loose domesticated pets that are totally dependent on humans to survive.
Taking a tropical reptile to a high altitude that had no food source and low overnight temperatures was inhumane.
Dumping animals is not unique to Colorado.
Florida is having a huge problem with Burmese and rock pythons, iguanas, tegus, monitors being let go into the Everglades. The habitat is suitable but they are depleting native species and natural resources at an alarming rate. Pet owners are choosing to release animals vs re-homing animals.
There are numerous rescue groups, humane societies and even Facebook pages dedicated to re-homing of animals. There is never an excuse to simply dump any animal, whether it is a goldfish or a horse.
The Colorado Reptile Humane Society reports Miles is gaining weight and has kept his sweet disposition. There are some concerns with his vision, but he will be an adoptable animal. Please consider checking out their Facebook page and donating to Miles and the many other reptiles in Society care.
PHOTOS Courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife
If you have general questions about Colorado Parks and Wildlife, email Darcy at AskARanger@state.co.us. Darcy may answer it in a future column.
But if you have an immediate question about wildlife or a state park, please call the nearest CPW office in your community. For CPW office locations and contact information, go to http://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/ContactUs.aspx.