The Early Years:
Booger is a rescued common green iguana. A local family found him in a building when he was young and kept him as a pet. After a year or so, Booger became a little more than they were prepared to handle. With a stroke of luck, or just a good demonstration of being in the right place at the right time, I hooked up with a friend of Booger's owner. I agreed to examine the iguana with no commitment of keeping the reptile.
The day finally arrived when Booger and I had the privilege of meeting one another. Extremely malnourished and underweight, I was initially reluctant to accept the lizard for fear he was too far gone and would not properly develop into an adult. I took Booger from his cage into the house for a closer examination. I could guess immediately that the reptile was not used to being handled by humans. After carefully considering the bleak future for this creature, I agreed to keep Booger and promised to provide the best care for the rest of his natural life.
The first order of business, as with all rescued pets, was to get Booger cleaned, fed and examined by a qualified veterinarian. A quick trip to the shower was enough to wash away several layers of dirt while providing a fresh source of drinking water. In order to raise his nutritional level quickly, Booger was hand fed baby food through a syringe then introduced to his new cage and a fresh serving of chopped collard greens, carrots and apple. It didn't take more than a taste or two before Booger started eating like a ravenous monster. His healthy appetite was good news for me because this reduced the chances that he was not eating due to stress, whereby force feeding would likely not be required. After a week or two of steady diet and daily showers, it was time for a trip to the veterinarian for a complete physical and the standard de-worming procedure. Booger was soon given a clean bill of health and continued to put away the chow. Within a couple months we had ourselves a fully recovered iguana. The task of "taming" this wild creature now lay before us, a job some experts consider impossible unless the reptile is hand raised from a hatchling.
Taming the Beast:
While it is true you can no more tame an iguana than you can teach your cat to "heel" on command, it is possible for the iguana to lose his natural fear of you and other pets that share common territory. We approached this daunting task by applying many of the techniques used to successfully tame feral cats; a lot of patience and as much physical contact you can offer without causing undue stress to the animal. Toilet training and feedings become a predictable routine for the animal in training and when the trainee tries to run and hide, you must seek them out and give them personal attention. Eventually, they will set aside their innate, pre-programmed flee or fight response and "learn" that no harm will come to them. The natural survival instincts will always remain with the animal, even the calmest of domesticated cats will exhibit this behavior when startled, scared or threatened.
Our Lizard, Our Pet:Liz and I are quite pleased with the progress Booger has made. He has adapted to a routine of basking for a hour under the heat lamp in the morning followed by a quick trip to the shower for his daily devotional. From here, he is given a quick physical inspection and transported to his outdoor cage for a day of warmth and sunshine. On days where weather does not permit outdoor activity, Booger remains in the house with his companions. Of all our pets, reptiles are the only creatures requiring natural sunlight in order to sustain a healthy existence. Along with a proper diet, natural sunlight is required for metabolic activity; artificial sun lamps do not provide the energy spectrum reptiles need to properly develop.
Booger has adjusted quite well with his new surroundings. He has selected his favorite spots in the house where he likes to perch and survey his territory. He no longer feels the need to scramble off and hide when we approach or touch him, enabling us to pick him up at will. Of course, it is handy to keep a towel with you because iguanas have very sharp claws with needle like hooks on the end. We found it important to keep in mind that although Booger may now display affable qualities, he is capable of inflicting serious bites or delivering a nasty welt with the whip of his tail. Liz has received a couple bites from Booger, surprised at the amazing speed they were delivered and the fact they came without warning. Liz also shares this physical attraction with our boy Gus.
The Formative Years:
More than a year of attentive training was required before Booger adapted to his new surrounding, established his territory and ultimately was released to move freely about the house. A typical day for Booger includes waking shortly after sunrise, receiving a warm shower, eating a healthy breakfast and then cruising about the house to check on his domain and seek out a prime basking location. By this time Booger has already established dominance, demoting Gus as the Alpha pet. You will simply have to trust me that this period of hostility and turmoil did not take place overnight. The two residents fought this battle for several months and routine inspections on both animals were required in order to ensure no battle wounds went unchecked. Gus' pride was often threatened by the mere presence of this strange looking, cold blooded creature. While other cats were allowed to cross paths with Booger with nothing more than a head-bob, Gus was unable to approach closer than two feet before the hostilities commenced. If you've never felt the full impact of the tail of a mature iguana, it is all but impossible to understand why Gus persisted to challenge such a primitive lizard for territorial dominance after the first whack upside the head from Booger's tail.
The typical behavior for an iguana that feels threatened is to turn and run away; after all, they are not predatory animals and they are at the bottom of the food chain. Before resorting to physical violence the typical iguana displays a generous portion of intimidating gestures, similar with most creatures on this planet, when a threat is sensed. More often than not these gestures include standing high on their legs, raising their spines, extending their dewlap and hissing or grunting. If this sounds familiar then you have likely witnessed one or more of these acts by any number of creatures in the animal kingdom, perhaps you have even used these techniques yourself when confronted by a hostile adversary. It is only fair to say that Booger provided ample warning whenever Gus would make his presence known. The next, and last, level of defense displayed by the iguana is the cocking of its tail in preparation for delivering a hammering blow. This posture was repeatedly displayed by Booger when Gus would approach within a two foot radius. Any action beyond this is purely aggressive and designed to inflict painful injuries. These threatening gestures lasted for one or two months prior to Gus receiving his first tail strike, but what followed a week later even surprised me. During Gus' final stand to impose his dominance, Booger mounted his own offensive by charging head-on with mouth wide open forcing Gus to run backward the entire length of our living room. The attack lasted only seconds and ended as abruptly as it began when Gus crashed into the sliding glass door. That was Gus' last attempt to challenge Booger for top pecking order and the two contenders walked away peacefully.
The Mature Years:
Booger has developed into a docile lizard that roams freely about the property. Much of his outdoor time is spent on the roof of the house where he is provided ample sun and shade. He climbs up and down from the roof using a cage on the back patio and the bush in front of the house. From the rooftop Booger has a great vantage point for taking in the scenery and harassing the neighbor's dogs as if taunting them. In the beginning, Booger was only granted outdoor privileges for several hours a day. As time progressed and he defined his territory, Booger was eventually permitted to sleep outdoors and roam freely on the property. For the most part, he would return to the ground late in the afternoon and make his way indoors to sleep safely for the night. On two or three occasions, Booger wandered off the property in search of another prime basking spot but these occurrences were truly rare and he was checked with such periodicity that his escapades always went detected.
For more than five years Booger has been allowed to roam freely and interact with friends and neighbors. He has visited Mission Trails Regional Park, Lake Murray and logged many miles riding on the rear deck of a hatchback sedan.