Thursday, February 19, 2009


The recent ugliness with the chimpanzee rampage made me think of a time not too long ago when I had iguanas.

It started innocently enough, for my birthday my girlfriend at the time gave me this tiny little iguana. It was probably only about 6 inches long and it was mostly tail.

It was not surprising that I fell in love with the little thing and named him Igor (I became convinced later that he was a she- you can hardly tell). What was surprising was that Igor lived, surviving cat encounters, escape attempts and even a broken leg. Small iguanas are hard to catch and very delicate.

A couple of years went by and Igor got to be pretty big. After he crossed the 3 ft barrier it became difficult to contain him and it seemed unusually cruel. An animal that was born to live in trees and climb was reduced to a pet that could only live in a cage. It seemed terribly unfair, so I opened the door and declared Igor a free range reptile, and Igor could go where ever he wished.

Some days he would sit in the palm tree in the front window and just stare out all day. I always wondered what he was thinking, maybe he didn't think, but he did want out. He would try to climb the windows, and he would jump onto the window shades, but that couldn't be as much fun as really climbing the trees he could see from his perch.

Every once in a while, he would crawl off and hide for a couple of days. He usually did this when there was bad weather like hurricanes. Sometimes you just could not find him, other times I would pat down my clothes in my closest and there would be a big lump in the middle, and there he would be, looking at me like I had just ruined the perfect nap.

When Amy and I started dating, Igor was part of the picture. She could not be with me without Igor. Amy was a good sport and tolerated him, but he did freak her out a few times. Igor would sometimes crawl across the bed at night go hide in the closet. His path would cut right across the foot of the bed, and anyone's feet who happened to be under the covers. Amy did not like this...

The funniest story about Igor has to be the time that Amy met up with Igor in the closet. Amy had just gotten out of the shower and went to the closet to pick out her clothes. She reached up and grabbed the light cord but it was stuck. So she looked up and gave the cord a good yank. The light came on and she was nose to nose with Igor who was sitting on top of the bar that was holding the clothes. She let out a blood curdling scream that the whole neighborhood had to have heard! I knew right away what was going on and just fell out laughing. I don’t know why, but she never has thought that story was funny.

Amazingly, through all of this Amy still agreed to marry me.

Amy and I decided that we should get a real house about the same time we got married. My only demand was that we had to have an iguana room and then I would agree to stop the free range reptile park that we had at the rental house. Another reason for this was the fact that by this time I had acquired a second iguana- Ivanna (the old girlfriend that gave me Igor was able to guilt me into taking the one she kept- I am a sucker).

Shortly after moving in and getting set up in the new house, I was presented with a 3rd iguana and was thinking I should apply for zoo status. All 3 iguanas were large, over 4 ft long, and as heavy as a regular sized cat.

When my iguanas got angry they could bite and break the skin. They also had long sharp claws and could easily shred the skin on your arms. The iguanas’ tails were thick and muscular and if you were not paying attention, they would whip you with them and aim right for your face. It hurt! Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of keeping iguanas, because you really can never be sure that you are safe, is that they are carriers of salmonella.

I was devastated when Igor died. Not too long after that, Ivanna died and I was so upset that it forced me to send the 3rd temporary iguana tenant back to his real home, because I just couldn't deal with iguanas any longer. The Iguana Hotel closed.

My iguanas died because even though I tried to give them the best life I could, I could not give them what their natural habitat could give them. Emotionally, I was very attached to my iguanas, but the reality was they did not belong in a house with people. At best, they only ever tolerated me. They belonged in a tropical environment, not suburban Virginia Beach.

A chimpanzee is different than an iguana, or even three. A chimp is social, and trainable, but in the end, it is still a wild animal that is incredibly strong. I am sorry that people were hurt because of the chimp's rampage in this article, but is it the chimp's fault? Seriously, the woman gave the chimp Xanax to calm him down. Why did she not have a real backup plan? I am thinking a taser with a range of 15 feet, a tranquilizer gun, and definitely pepper spray for everyday protection (if it will stop a grizzly bear I think it will make a chimp pause). I am pretty sure I would also get a gun, and generally I don’t believe in having them in my home.

To sum up, wild animals should not leave the wild. Love your animals, but never forget they are wild. If you have a choice, don't bring them into your home, and don’t support people who profit by placing animals where they do not belong.


Cathy Nelson said...

This is a GREAT story and I couldn't agree more. Currently my sixth graders are doing a research project on exotic animals and their essential questions is can the animal be a legitimate pet. I am going to share your story along with that chimpanzee story with them. Thanks for sharing. I feel your pain at losing the pets, but also agree wholeheartedly with your decisions.

Al said...

Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. It always bothers me when people project their feelings onto an animal and expect it to behave according to their rules. Loving animals is great, and I feel for them all, but you just never know exactly how they will react.
Good luck with your student project!

Sean said...

I have to admit I too Laughed Out Loud when I read about Amy being scared by Igor...

I can still recall sharing that house with you. I neglected to do laundry for a good long while and when I wanted to go out one night decided that you wouldnt mind if I went into your closet and "Borrowed" a shirt... Ivana let me know in no uncertain terms and a lightening fast tail whip to the arm that those were your clothes and if I wanted to borrow them It would be wise to consult with you first.