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from The Houston Chronicle



July 31, 2002, 12:35AM

Slithering shock for landlord

Tenants skip out on rent, abandon exotic reptiles

Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

As if things weren't bad enough when his tenants skipped out on their rent, a landlord in southwest Houston found three large monitor lizards, three Burmese pythons and two yellow anacondas in a house he owns.

The reptiles, all in cages, were hungry and thirsty after being abandoned for at least two months. Worse, two venomous snakes might be missing.

The landlord, Don Scott, called the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It seized the lizards and reptiles Tuesday and is investigating the reptiles' owners for abandonment and cruelty. The SPCA did not release the owners' names.

The SPCA brought the gangly snakes and lizards into its Houston headquarters Tuesday.

During the move, a 6-foot-long crocodile monitor lizard with 2-inch claws ripped open its cage and was loose in the trailer. SPCA handlers immediately stopped the truck, recaptured the lizard and put it in another cage.

There were two crocodile monitors, which grow up to 10 feet long and have a vicious bite and sharp claws. They are dark-colored with yellow spots.

"Those things are wrecking machines," said Charlie Mann, a zookeeper with the Houston Zoo.

The third lizard is a roughneck monitor, a smaller and less dangerous lizard from Southeast Asia. That animal has an eye infection that the Houston Zoo will treat with antibiotics.

Two empty cages at the house in the 6900 block of Escondido, near the Fort Bend county line, caught the attention of the SPCA crew. The cages had labels for rhinoceros vipers, an extremely venomous African snake with large fangs. Officials did not find the snakes in the house and do not know whether the owners took them or whether they are loose somewhere.

The zoo will care for the lizards and anacondas until officials decide what to do with them. The SPCA will keep the pythons.

The animal handlers moved the snakes in pillow cases tied at the top. The restless reptiles heaved themselves up and raised their heads as they strained against the pillow cases.

The largest of the snakes is a 9-foot albino Burmese python that is yellow with white patterns. It is so skinny that its spine showed when handlers removed it briefly from its pillow case. "They've been neglected," Paul Freed, the herpetology supervisor at the zoo, said of the snakes. "There are obvious signs of dehydration."

The collection includes two regular Burmese pythons, which are dark brown with beige and gold patterns. Burmese pythons grow up to 20 feet in length and are constrictors. "Adult men could never get out of the coils of an adult Burmese python," Mann said.

The two South American anacondas are also constrictors with large teeth. They reach up to 11 feet in length.

Experts say Texas has an abnormally high number of dangerous pets. Earlier this month, the SPCA seized a starving lion from a Houston-area home, and pit bull terriers mauled to death their Splendora owner.

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