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Enormous Escaped Lizard Evades Capture, Takes Up Residence In Terrified Florida Family’s Backyard

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Aliyah Kovner

Science Writer

clockAug 31 2018, 11:22 UTC

Asian water monitor lizards reach up to 3.2 meters (10.5 feet) in length. They are in the same reptile family as Komodo dragons, and similarly to their cousins, spread potentially fatal bacteria through their bites. sippakorn/Shutterstock

In the latest only-in-Florida news, a nearly 2-meter-long (6-foot) Asian water monitor lizard has escaped from captivity and made itself comfortable in the backyard of a Broward County home, sunning itself on the deck and staring menacingly through the sliding glass doors at the family who lives there.

It is now day six of the reptile’s occupation, and thanks to its impressive ability to evade trappers, it’s stay could be indefinite.

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“Since it’s been in our backyard my wife is scared to go in the pool,” resident/victim Zachary Lieberman told The Daily Beast. “This thing can come out of the bushes and eat our small children as food. We just want it out of our environment so we can go back to our lives.”

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Native to southern and southeastern Asia, water monitors are one of the largest lizard species in the world. As the name implies, they are semi-aquatic animals that stick close to bodies of water. And while they are not considered venomous the lizards’ mouths host a blend of pathogenic bacteria that would spell very bad news if introduced into a human body through a bite. Moreover, their teeth are evolved for gnashing through flesh to take down prey, so the act itself is incredibly painful.

However, the animals do not attack people, and typically only bite a person if threatened. Private and state-employed wildlife removal experts have been attempting to catch the monitor since it arrived at the Lieberman house on Sunday, but it has remained one step ahead each time.

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“Yesterday, we brought out hunting dogs and we were able to track his sent to a hole in the forest behind my house, but he was not there,” Lieberman said. “We finally got eyes on him near the water, but he took off running and bee-lined to the lake and swam away.”

He, or she, has since reappeared near the home. According to The Daily Beast, the lizard's origins have been traced to a 14-year-old boy who lives near the Lieberman. The teen used to have three monitors in his backyard enclosure; only one is in there now. 

Exotic animals, legal and otherwise, are quite popular in Florida. One reason for this trend lies in the fact that the Miami International Airport serves as one of the major entry points for foreign animals being imported or trafficked into the US.

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In 2013 alone, Fish and Wildlife officials assigned to the airport tallied 11,000 international shipments of live animals (and that’s only the declared cases). Another reason could be that odd pets match the Floridian character, and the state’s climate makes it easy to keep the colorful, curious, and sometimes dangerous creatures native to other tropical regions.

The problem arises when people’s exotics pets escape – or when their owners decide they don’t want to care for them and dump them outside – and enter into the ecosystem. Though it may sound callous, the best outcome of such events is for the animal to die. Because if it fares too well and meets up with other escapees, they could form breeding populations that will almost certainly negatively impact the livelihoods of native species.

At least five species of exotic animals have established themselves as invasive species in Florida, the most worrying of which is the Burmese python. Since the 1980s, the descendants of runaway and discarded pet snakes have been colonizing the suitably balmy Everglades in the southern tip of the state. Despite continuous removal efforts, it is estimated that tens of thousands of them live in the vast stretch of mangroves and swamp.

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