The S.C. Department of Natural Resources board wants to ban black and white tegu lizards from coming into the state and reproducing. Officials with the agency said the invasive reptile from South America could be problematic in South Carolina.
A regulation, already approved by DNR and up for a vote by the General Assembly, would add tegus to the state’s list of restricted nonnative wildlife.
Reptile collectors favor the lizard, and some think the proposal is premature.
At least 11 tegu sightings were confirmed in the state by DNR within the past year. The ground-dwelling predators can weigh up to 10 pounds; vary in length; and eat a diet including plants, eggs and ground-nesting birds.
If the regulation passes, the possession, sale, importation, release and reproduction of the species would be prohibited in the state.
The proposal grandfathers in tegus that are already here.
“No one could bring additional animals in or reproduce them, but if people already have them, they could register them and then they would be permitted and allowed to keep them for the remainder of the animal’s life,” said Will Dillman, assistant chief for wildlife for DNR.
If the proposal becomes law, businesses and individuals would have 120 days to register its tegus with DNR and get a permit at no cost. The animals would also have to be microchipped.
Elise Bennett, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said it is reassuring to see South Carolina taking bold steps to protect its native wildlife from the highly invasive lizard.
“Tegus and other nonnative reptiles are already wreaking havoc on Florida’s ecosystems, in large part because of the unchecked commercial trade in these animals,” Bennett said. “South Carolina’s new rule attacks the problem at its source.”
On Feb. 25, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved final rules that would eliminate commercial breeding and personal ownership of several invasive reptiles, including the Argentine black and white tegu. Florida would allow the export of the animals to other states.
“And so what’s most likely to happen is they’re going to send these animals to nearby markets, and the closest market right now would be Georgia and South Carolina until South Carolina’s rule goes into effect,” Bennett said.
Adonis Broadway, a tegu owner in Moncks Corner, said a ban in South Carolina would be devastating for businesses that rely on reptile education and breeders.
“And it’s just a devastating blow to the pet trade,” Broadway said. “And the question is, why go after pet owners?”
Broadway said he believes there is a bad stigma regarding reptiles that makes it easy for an agency like DNR to push a ban on trading the animals without hardly any opposition. But this species can be trained to have the same temperament as a dog, he said.
Tegu lizards can cost up to $1,000, Broadway said, and certain equipment is required to house them responsibly. And if a person spends that much money on a pet, he said, it can be safely assumed that the owner isn’t going to release it into the wild, but rather take steps to ensure it doesn’t get out.
Broadway doesn’t want pet owners to be involved in the state’s proposed ban.
“Tegus coming into South Carolina have nothing to do with the South Carolina pet owners,” Broadway said. “It may have been a situation with Florida pet owners or with Georgia pet owners, but they didn’t enter the wild through South Carolina pet owners.”
He said he believes a good alternative would be to enforce a “spay-capture-release” rule or allow folks to kill the reptiles found in the wild.
Broadway said it takes a certain level of thinking to even consider a reptile as a pet, so most owners will take care of the animals responsibly.
DNR’s proposal is intended to prevent the establishment of nonnative wildlife that pose a threat to the state’s resources. The regulation will now work its way through the General Assembly’s subcommittee and committee process.