Tegu On Loose Highlights Need To Tag, Register Pet Reptiles

Social Circle, Ga.

Deadline to Meet New Requirements Only Weeks Away.

A 3-foot-long lizard living under a porch in Athens is just one example of why Georgia is requiring pet owners to tag and register six newly regulated reptile species.

And the deadline to do that is only a month away. “Pet owners need to schedule with their vet as soon as possible,” said Dr. Brett Albanese of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Since last December, Nile monitors, African helmeted turtles, Chinese softshell turtles, Argentine black and white tegus, and Indian rock and Burmese pythons have been listed as wild animals in Georgia. The grace period for pet owners to tag their animals with a passive integrated transponder tag and then register them with DNR ends at midnight Dec. 3. DNR advises using a veterinarian to inject PIT tags.

Visit georgiawildlife.com/wild-animal-rules for a guide to tagging and registering pet reptiles.

The Argentine black and white tegu living outside the Athens home last month was trapped and given to DNR. Albanese said the homeowner was unaware of it until neighborhood children told her about a “giant lizard” in her yard. No one claimed the tegu. It’s unclear if it escaped or was released, which is illegal.

“This is definitely an example of why we need to regulate these species,” Albanese said. “They can be difficult to keep and as they grow their owners may not want to care for them or be able to afford to.”

The changes to the state’s wild animal list last year added species that pose a threat to wildlife or people. Biologists decided which animals to add by reviewing non-native species documented in Georgia and nearby states, along with studies assessing the ecological risks and any inherent danger to humans.

The Argentine black and white tegu is a South American reptile popular in the pet trade. Yet through escapes and releases, these lizards that can reach 4 feet long have established populations in the wild in Florida and one in southeast Georgia (georgiawildlife.com/tegus).

As part of the wild-animal list additions, the Board of Natural Resources approved a 12-month period for pet owners to tag and register the six reptile species and for businesses to sell any newly listed wild animals acquired before the changes took effect. This allows Georgia pet owners who meet the tagging and registration requirements to keep their pets.

Owners can also transfer the pets to others as long as they are tagged and registered by midnight Dec. 3. Afterward, animals not tagged and registered can be possessed only by a license or permit for scientific, educational or public exhibition purposes.

Albanese stressed that releasing animals into the wild is illegal and counters efforts to protect wildlife from non-native species. “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to never release non-native species in Georgia. This helps protect native wildlife and prevent the need for additional regulations.”

The wild-animal rule changes are explained at georgiawildlife.com/wild-animal-rules.

Georgia law distinguishes wild animals from wildlife native to the state as well as species normally considered domestic. From monk parakeets to silver carp, the state regulates wild animals that pose threats to wildlife, other natural resources or people, or that create problems with enforcing wildlife laws and regulations.