Video: N.J. firefighters rescue monitor lizard from tree

The Woolwich Fire Co. crew found the 4-foot reptile and worked with an animal control officer to wrangle it


Allison Pries
nj.com

WOOLWICH TOWNSHIP, N.J. — It’s a cliche call. Someone’s cat climbs up a tree, they panic and call the fire department.

That’s not what happened in Woolwich Sunday morning.

Their Woolwich Fire Co. was dispatched to a home in the High Hill Estates neighborhood for a reported lizard up a tree. There they found a 4-foot monitor lizard and worked with an animal control officer to wrangle the reptile.

“The residents are happy,” said Woolwich Fire Chief David T. Valichka. “I guess this thing has been terrorizing the neighborhood since Thursday.”

A Maple Hill Drive resident exited her home Sunday morning around 9:30 a.m. to walk her dog and spotted the lizard, he said, and called animal control. When Animal Control Officer Erin Bragg, of Independent Animal Care Services, arrived the lizard had made its way up a tree in the woman’s yard and was out of reach.

“My first reaction is always that it’s going to be an iguana because iguanas, as they get older, get aggressive and people don’t know how to handle them. They get out of their cage or people turn them loose,” Bragg said. “I didn’t think it would be easy, but I’ve handled an iguana before.”

When Bragg set eyes on the reptile she was shocked to see it was a monitor lizard. “It was not what I was expecting at 9:30 a.m. on a Sunday,” Bragg said. “It definitely woke me up.”

Firefighters showed up with a ladder truck to help. When they got there the lizard was only about halfway up the tree, so a fire department member started scaling the pine tree in pursuit of the scaly intruder. But when he got closer, the lizard climbed higher.

That’s when the fire department personnel decided to extend the ladder from the fire truck up to the top of the tree to cut the lizard off, touching off a 25-minute game of cat and mouse.

Residents gathered for the show and took pictures as the fire department and Bragg chased the lizard up and down the tree.

“It’s like the whole street came out,” Bragg said. “There were probably 10 kids and just as many adults.”

Bragg had two control sticks with her — a long stick with a noose at one end. She manned one and gave the other to a firefighter at the top of the tree.

“Knowing they’re strong animals and they have strong defense mechanisms – bitting talons, a tail they can whip you with – it wasn’t as daunting to approach. Like any animal you’ve never met before, you have to respect it. The first thing it’s going to do is protect itself,” she said.

First, the firefighter looped the lizard but it got out of the noose. Then she looped it and it got out. The firefighter looped it again and the lizard decided to “jump ship,” Bragg said.

“It just let go of the tree. But it still had the control stick around it,” she said.

Bragg was able to grab the stick and wrestle control of the lizard and loaded it into a container.

“He is just pure muscle and he wanted to get away from me with every ounce of his being,” she said. “I felt bad for him.”

The monitor was taken to the Gloucester County Animal Shelter.

The mystery remains about how the monitor lizard — which is native to Africa, Asia and Oceania — took up residence in a New Jersey suburb.

“None of the residents said it was their pet,” the fire chief, Valichka said. “Maybe somebody had it as a pet and couldn’t handle it anymore so they let it go.”

Bragg said the lizard will likely be placed on a seven-day hold at the shelter, like any other animal, before they try to find a permanent home for the reptile if it goes unclaimed.

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