Exotic Reptile Discovered in the St. Croix River

Tropical lizard found on the upper river, where it was likely abandoned by its owner.




2 minute read

Caimans are native to Central and South America (Photo courtesy Kristi Pupak, Wisconsin DNR)
Caimans are native to Central and South America. (Photo courtesy Kristi Pupak, Wisconsin DNR)

Some visitors to Thayer’s Landing near Danbury, WI must have gotten a shock yesterday when they discovered a caiman, a member of the alligator family, in the water. The site is about 15 miles east of Hinckley, where Highway 77 crosses the river.

The animal was dead, most likely released by an irresponsible pet owner, or possibly escaped. The visitors who found it brought the animal to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources office in Webster.

Caimans are fierce hunters from Central and South America that live in wetlands, lakes, and rivers, eating mostly fish. Because they are cold-blooded, they require warm water and atmosphere. Preferring temperatures warmer than about 80 degrees, it’s not surprising the caiman discovered this week was already dead.

Reptile expert Dr. Adam Britton says caimans are popular pets and promoted heavily by dealers, but they frequently cause problems for amateur owners.

“They may be small and cute as hatchlings, but this does not last very long. In only a few months, never mind years, they grow considerably in size and their temper usually gets worse with every day,” Britton writes on Crocodilian.com. “They also have incredibly powerful bites featuring many sharp teeth. It isn’t surprising that many owners, frequently misinformed by pet stores desperate to sell the animals, end up giving them away or, worse, disposing of them in some manner that may be illegal, inhumane or both.”

Wisconsin is one of only five states that allow residents to keep almost any animal as a pet, Wisconsin Watch reported in 2015. An attempt to pass legislation earlier this year failed. Near the site of the caiman’s discovery, the towns of Siren and Webster have exotic pet regulations that limit reptiles like the caiman to 30 inches.

Several large lizards like caimans were found in Minnesota lakes this summer, making for hysterical headlines and nervous swimmers. Those animals were also thought to be former pets. A Hudson woman was ticketed in 2011 for bringing a small pet caiman to the city’s beach on the St. Croix River.

Responsible reptile owners must think carefully before deciding to get a caiman, because after they grow up and get meaner, there are few people or places that will adopt them. Caiman-owners are then left with a lose-lose decision.

“Releasing caimans into the wild might seem to be an eco-friendly thing to do, but it will result in one of two outcomes,” writes Dr. Britton. “Either your spurned pet will die, or it will become a serious nuisance.”


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Exotic Reptile Discovered in the St. Croix River