Thursday, March 15, 2012

OAKLAND PARK - An iguana trapping company has offered a free-of-charge capture of the iguana that bit a 7-year-old Oakland Park girl.



"We saw it in the paper this morning and I thought we could go and get it and do it free for her," said Andy Pinker, a trapper with Iguana Catchers in
Hallandale Beach. Normally the company charges about $250 for trapping. They will contact the family of 7-year-old Madison Wells sometime today, he said. When Madison's mother, Michelle Yurko, heard about the offer, she was thrilled.

"Oh, great. I think that's awesome, that's what this whole things was about," Yurko said. "I'm so glad these people are doing something to help someone else. These guys are doing me a great favor."

Wells, 7, was bitten by an iguana last week. She dropped four strawberries for a 6-foot-long specimen, and the lizard took a bite out of her foot that needed 23 stitches.

"I'm not going to touch any iguanas anymore," Madison said. "I'm afraid of them. Especially the orange ones."

When Madison saw her first iguana in person last Thursday, she thought the creature would just be interested in the food, because she had learned in school that they are typically vegetarians.
Madison said that when she went over to her neighbor's house, her friend's mother told her that she could feed the stray iguana that had taken up residence in the neighborhood . They said they had even given it a name.

Instead, it clamped its jaws around Madison's right foot, tearing at tendons that keep her from wiggling four of her toes.  Madison, a second-grader at Oakland Park Elementary School, was hospitalized from about 6 p.m. to just after midnight.

"It hurt my feelings because it licked everyone else's feet and I thought that it was just going to do that," Madison said. "Maybe it wanted to see what I tasted like."

More likely, the iguana was thinking Madison was a strawberry, said Wildlife Veterinarian Stephan Harsh, who works with the SPCA Wildlife Care Center in Fort Lauderdale.

"I'm sure he liked [the strawberries] a lot and was so eager that he got the foot," Harsh said. "In this case, he was expected to be fed."

Harsh said iguanas are typically not aggressive, though attacks aren't unheard of. In 2002, a 4-foot-long iguana bit a Hollywood boy's fingertip. The boy, then 14, had been keeping it as a pet, but when it attacked him, officers were called and shot the creature.

The non-native reptiles grow to be nearly 7-feet long with sharp teeth, large claws, and jagged tails. About 3 percent of households keep iguanas as pets, which are often later abandoned in canals by owners who no longer desire or are able to take care of them.

Madison's mother, Yurko, 40, contacted police, wildlife, and animal control officials to see if the neighborhood iguana would be removed, but she said that no one was able to come out and trap the animal. She is hoping someone will.

"It's a freak accident" Yurko said. "But that creature doesn't belong in this community."

Indeed, some would rather not see iguanas as pets at all, going as far to say as the state would be better off without them, said veteran iguana hunter George Cera. He wrote "The Iguana Cookbook: Save Florida, Eat an Iguana," which offers tongue-in-cheek recipes for humans featuring iguana meat.

"They are a species of animal are flat out killing our native wildlife," said Cera, who is based out of Sarasota. "People get them and don't realize that they can live 20 years."

Madison is to have surgery soon to repair her tendons, and hopes to return to school next week. However, she said she is worried because her school is just across the street from the house where the iguana bit her.

"I'm afraid to go to school because it could attack me again," Madison said. "Hopefully I won't get hurt anymore."

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