| DENVER, July 17
DENVER, July 17 A 6-foot-long (1.83-meter),
25-pound (11-kg) Nile monitor lizard has escaped from his owner
in a Colorado mountain community, prompting authorities to warn
residents on Tuesday to keep children and small pets indoors
until the carnivorous reptile is captured.
The black lizard, known as Dino, broke its nylon leash near
Woodland Park, about 85 miles (137 km) southwest of Denver on
Monday and scampered away, said Teller County Sheriff Mike
"These lizards are pretty muscular and can be aggressive,"
Ensminger told Reuters.
As cold-blooded creatures, monitors need to sun themselves
to maintain body heat, so animal-control officers are searching
rock outcroppings during the daytime hours, Ensminger said.
Native to Africa, Nile monitors have long sharp claws, and
powerful jaws that clamp down on prey, according to the Denver
Zoo, which until recently housed a Nile monitor.
The Denver Zoo's female monitor died about a month ago where
it had lived for 10 years, said zoo spokesman Sean Andersen-Vie.
Animal-control officers in Cheyenne, Wyoming, had found the
female lizard, which had either escaped or had been set free by
its owner, he said.
In the wild, monitors feed on carrion, crocodile eggs, fish
and birds, but in captivity they will eat small rodents and
fish, the zoo said.
The Nile monitor's forked tongue, which is used to test the
air for the scent of quarry, and its thick, keeled tail add to
the reptile's dragon-like appearance.
Escaped Nile monitors have posed problems as an invasive
species in Florida where they have bred and thrived in the
tropical climate, said Denver veterinarian Kevin Fitzgerald, who
specializes in reptile medicine.
The solitary monitor on the loose in Colorado may be able to
find small mammals or birds to eat to survive for a while,
Fitzgerald said, but also will have to elude predators such as
foxes, coyotes, mountain lions and even large raptors.
Even if it finds prey, the monitor will freeze to death once
temperatures plummet in the Colorado high country in late summer
or early autumn, he said.
Fitzgerald said the broader debate should center on the
"ethical and moral" issue of importing exotic animals for people
to keep as pets.
"Why do we allow somebody to keep a subtropical, African
species in a basement at 8,000 feet (2,400 meters)?" he said.
Ensminger said it is not illegal to own a monitor in
Colorado, so unless Dino injures someone, it is unlikely
authorities would lodge criminal charges against the owner.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Sandra Maler)