South Carolina is facing an ecological challenge with the emergence of the Argentine black-and-white tegu, an invasive lizard species, and is adopting creative strategies to mitigate its impact.
These large lizards, known for their substantial appetite, have been disrupting local ecosystems in the Southern U.S. for over a decade. They feed on various foods, including fruits, birds, and eggs of endangered species. The Argentine tegu, capable of growing up to three feet, has been particularly problematic in states like Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Due to their resilience and the difficulty in eradicating them, they have been classified as an invasive species.
Recognizing the threat posed to native wildlife, South Carolina has enforced regulations against owning these lizards. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) has documented the presence of tegus in multiple counties, prompting strict control measures. The state's climate and habitat conditions are conducive for these reptiles, leading to their addition to the list of Restricted Nonnative Wildlife.
However, a novel approach is being explored in neighboring Georgia, where captured wild tegus are offered as pets. This tactic aims to reduce the wild population while catering to reptile enthusiasts. The Georgia Reptile Society, through its Tegu Task Force, encourages residents to report sightings for capture and subsequent adoption. Justyne Lobello, the past president of the society, notes in a National Geographic report that there's a significant waiting list for those wishing to adopt these reptiles.
The spread of tegus in the U.S. is largely attributed to escapes or releases from captivity by careless owners. The Georgia Reptile Society views tegus as remarkable animals that bond deeply with their owners, emphasizing that the invasive spread is a result of irresponsible pet ownership.
This situation in South Carolina and neighboring states underscores the delicate balance between wildlife management and pet adoption, highlighting the need for responsible ownership and awareness of the ecological impacts of non-native species.