Bay of Plenty Regional Council are warning pet owners not to release any unwanted pets into the wild.
This comes after footage emerged of an Eastern Water Dragon swimming in the waters about Lake McLaren.
Biosecurity manager Greg Corbett says releasing a pet into the wild is a lose-lose for both the pet and the environment, and many pets released to the wild do not survive.
“Domesticated animals seldom learn the necessary hunting skills to survive while other more exotic pets require certain climatic parameters such as temperature in order to live in the wild.
“In the case of the Eastern water dragon they are a cold blooded lizard native to warmer climates and hence when temperatures are cooler they are unable to move quickly and their diet is limited.”
BOPRC says the footage received was a stark reminder that pets released to the wild can become a pest, as those that do survive will hunt native wildlife that don’t have the natural defences to protect themselves against a new predator in their environment.
“Released pets can potentially spread diseases, destroy habitats for native wildlife and impact on both recreational and economic activities.
In the case of the water dragon their diet is primarily insects and as they can forage on the forest floor, climb on the branches of trees and are strong swimmers, there is a wide range of native insects, molluscs and crustaceans that are vulnerable to being eaten.
The Eastern water dragon is native to the East Coast of Australia.
Grey says while the species can be traded legally and kept in New Zealand, many would-be purchasers are often unaware of the demands and costs of keeping one as a pet.
Eastern water dragons can live up to 25 years in captivity, grow up to 1m long and as they are strong swimmers require an enclosure with a good sized pond.
He says given the location of the Eastern water dragon sighting was just above Lake McLaren it is most likely that the lizard was released by someone who no longer wanted it as a pet.
Greg says any pet owner who no longer wants their pet should always look to rehome it.
Eastern water dragons are expensive to purchase and therefore a number of people will be willing to rehome it.
A quick search of specialist reptile Facebook groups could easily have resulted in finding a new forever home for this particular lizard.
Depending on the pet options include asking friends, family and contacts. Listing the pet on key websites such as www.lostpet.conz or www.trademe.co.nz and animal rescue groups can often result in a forever home.
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