Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014



©1996 Melissa Kaplan


Just after midnight this morning, Elvys died. What he actually died of was kidney failure. What killed him was 7-8 long years of bad diet, including monkey biscuits and animal protein, with lots of iceberg lettuce, being locked in a too-small enclosure and largely ignored for the last 2 years before he came to me in 1994 because his owner's girlfriend didn't like him, and long term untreated systemic bacterial infections.

When he was brought to me - the day his owner moved from one place to a new one that did not allow animals - he was thin, fairly limp, his nuchal crest (the spikes on his neck) grossly swollen due to huge, deep abscesses due to injuries to the spikes from being kept on a leash/harness. His claws had never been cut; the owner had his hand wrapped in some old rags to protect his hand. He held Elvys away from his body. His final words to Elvys and me: "Well, I'm still gonna try to find someone to buy him so I can buy a snake." Not "good bye", not "take care", not "let me know how he does". Just an eye to the bottom line. Not, of course, that I would ever have given Elvys back to him...

Elvys had never seen another iguana from the time he was a hatchling and was completely unprepared for life in an iguana colony. Smaller iguanas of both sexes intimidated him; iguanas of equivalent or larger size (he was ~15" svl) sent him running for cover. Already suffering from mild MBD, he broke a leg shortly after his arrival and was 'hospitalized' with a smaller convalescing female. He quickly began to show signs of close attachment to me, coming over and butting my ribs as I sat on the couch force feeding or injecting other sick igs. Any attention, it seemed, was worth it to him.

Despite the lack of apparent closeness with his former owner, and his being banished to a back room in a tiny cage for 2 years, he went into a deep depression. I alternated between force feeding him Ensure-laced vegetable purees with trying every single food I could think of to try to get him to eat. Ten months after he came, he finally took a little banana. For the next six months, I put banana in his food to get him to eat. During that year, his normal mode of locomotion was to creep, barely getting his body off the ground, moving in slow motion, stopping frequently to fall asleep. I was constantly having to take his head out of the shallow food bowls, or nudge him awake several times to get him to finish a few mouthfuls of food.

Even though he eventually felt better, it was a constant struggle with systemic infections and abscesses. It became a waiting game, trying to see if his own immune system would kick in or if we had to resort to antibiotics. Along with antibiotics came fluid injections, too, those loooong fingers and now-clipped claws ineffectually slapping at me as I approached yet again, needle and syringe in hand.

He recovered enough to hit sexual maturity - and like another Peruvian iguana, Freddy (who was also euthanized due to kidney failure as a result of early diet and long-term untreated systemic infections, in February), decided that I was to be his mate for life. Unlike Fred, however, Elvys did not feel compelled to bite me at least once during the breeding season. Instead, he demanded attention and cuddles, intentionally acting out or climbing on things he knew would get me to come over and pick him up...whereupon he clung with all four limbs, his head buried in my neck, content and willing to stay that way for as long as I could stand it. My sleep disorder and constant tossing and turning all night aside, when he slept in bed with me, he always managed to stay in physical contact with my legs or feet all night, sometimes inching up to lay with his head on my shoulder.

Elvys didn't trust other iguanas not to hurt him, but he eventually realized that humans were pushovers and could, me aside, be easily intimidated. He became my silent burglar alarm - I could tell when someone was walking up the front walk because he would go into hatchet mode. People who came in were likely to be stalked and rushed, the glee in his eye apparent when he saw people back off. Those who believed me when I explained that it was all bluff just picked him up and gave him some heavy petting. This, too, put a gleam in his slowly closing eyes. Either way, he was pleased with the result. His last 'conquest' was David Mattingly, the CNN producer who came with a camera crew to film an interview with me about the iguana trade and Salmonella. Elvys hatcheted him, later walking across the room to David and laying his forefoot on David's foot.

Elvys was one of my ticking bombs...preceding him this past year were Iguanita (4-5 years old), Freddy (9 years), and Sylvia (5). Deaths that didn't have to happen if their owners had cared for them properly to begin with. Deaths that didn't have to happen if pet stores gave a damn about the animals they sell and the information they give.

Of the six iguanas I still have, five more are ticking bombs, ranging in ages from 3-10 years.

I know your thoughts are with me - please: instead of sending mail, go out and talk to someone, either talking them out of selling iguanas, out of getting an iguana, or into doing their iguana right. Please don't let these deaths be a waste...

Deformed and scarred nuchal spikes due to Elvys's prior owner using a leash on him for a couple of years. click photo to see larger image

Also, please don't use harnesses on your iguanas - Elvys's prior owner did, and you can see the terrible damage it can to to green iguana spikes.

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