NORTH PORT, Fla. (WFLA) – A large lizard is on the loose!
A North Port man had a wild encounter with an Asian Water Monitor right in front of his home. Now authorities are desperately looking for the animal.
Last Thursday evening, Erik Merlo thought he heard his girlfriend outside, but when he didn’t see her car, he went for a closer look. After his shocking discovery, he shot some cell phone video.
“Look at this (bleep) thing. What the (bleep) is that?” he says in the video.
It is a four foot long Asian Water Monitor.
“It was pretty scary…First thing that went through my mind- what’s it doing here? What is it?” said Merlo.
Merlo briefly went back inside, but when he returned, it was gone.
“I thought it was an alligator at first, and I wasn’t too worried at that point, because you know, Florida, we’re used to them. But after looking at it I thought, ‘Yeah that’s someone’s pet, that’s not supposed to be around here at all,'” he said.
The FWC says the Asian Water Monitor is an invasive species that could harm the ecosystem. In the days since, it has revisited Merlo’s house, damaged his back lanai and terrorized his garden.
“What if it starts destroying the ecosystem? What if it just goes crazy? What if it hurts a child or a pet?” Merlo asked.
Reinforcements have been brought in to find this lizard.
The FWC set up numerous traps around the neighborhood. But there is one man who will stop at nothing to find it.
“Oh man, I gotta get her back,” said Richie.
To Richie, this is not a pest, it’s his pet- ‘Lizzie.’ She recently escaped while he was in the hospital for surgery.
Owners of these large lizards must meet strict cage requirements, and its absolutely illegal to release them.
“She was probably in the, in his lanai over there looking for me,” said Richie.
He hopes to find her first.
“I wanna get her back before somebody kills her,” he said.
Neighbors are worried too.
“I remember when I was younger I lost a pet….so I know how the guy feels and I hope he finds it,” said neighbor Megan Touchstone.
The FWC is investigating.
If you ever spot an Asian Water Monitor in the wild, immediately call the FWC.
The FWC offers a program in an effort to reduce the number of nonnative species being released into the wild by exotic pet owners who can no longer care for their pets or no longer wish to keep them.
The Exotic Pet Amnesty Program provides an opportunity for surrender of exotic pets free of charge and without penalty during Exotic Pet Amnesty Day events, which are held throughout the state.
The FWC will also assist pet owners who cannot attend one of these events by encouraging them to call the FWC’s Exotic Species Hotline at 888-Ive-Got1 (888-483-4681) so that we can provide assistance in finding your animal a new home.