Police save a life (of an exotic lizard) but maybe they shouldn’t have

Pinecrest police Sgt. Robert LaRicci poses with the green iguana he rescued and released in late November.
Pinecrest police Sgt. Robert LaRicci poses with the green iguana he rescued and released in late November.

Pinecrest police, who mostly deal with business and car break-ins in the idyllic village of lush gardens and expensive homes, went into public relations overdrive this week when two officers saved a life. Of an iguana.

They found the invasive reptile in a chain-link fence and set it free. The village documented the rescue with a press release, which included a color picture of Sgt. Robert LaRicci rescuing the lizard before setting it free in a nearby canal.

“Pinecrest prides itself for its community policing and encourages residents to call police for any matter big or small,” the city touted.

There was just one problem: The invasive burrowing species, which causes the collapse of roads and runways, gnaws away at electrical wiring and shreds vegetable gardens, should have been euthanized.

“It’s actually against the law to release an invasive species,” said biologist Joe Wasilewski, an expert on South Florida’s reptile population, native and not. “They’re a threat that people don’t realize. They’re like a plague of locusts.”

Deana, an 8-month-old mixed puppy sets her sights on a 3-foot green iguana that invaded the swimming pool at her Miami home last weekend.

There’s no telling how many green iguanas there are in South Florida. But wildlife experts agree many communities have become overwhelmed by their presence. They’re a threat to small animals and fruit and vegetable gardens.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the exotic species began procreating prolifically in Miami-Dade about four decades ago. Unlike the more infamous Burmese python, they’re not really prevalent in the Everglades. They prefer the suburbs and cities.

Village spokeswoman Michelle Hammontree said Pinecrest residents are fortunate there is so little major crime in the village and that cops are free to mostly focus on community policing issues.

In the past, village officers have also saved a pig — and a goat named Stanley.

When told about Wasilewski’s concerns, Hammontree said she wasn’t aware of the issue and wondered what people would have thought had the iguana been euthanized.

At least one resident, a woman named Shelley Odin, was thrilled with the decision to release the iguana. On Twitter she thanked the officer and said, “If you save one life it’s like saving the world.”

Which prompted this from Wasilewski: “They should have brought it to animal control and euthanized it. That’s really the only solution. They’re out of control.”