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Project #RescueRalph: how I saved a limping lizard

Last Updated Jul 19, 2019 at 5:09 am EDT

Ralph the brown anole in his dry, transport soup box. CITYNEWS/Dilshad Burman

You can never fully prepare yourself for a day in the newsroom — no two are the same and there’s no such thing as an “average day.”

But when I walked into work on Thursday and saw a minuscule lizard on our assignment editor’s desk, it was definitely on the weirder side of our run-of-the-mill, unusual days.

The crew had already named him Ralph.

When I first made his acquaintance, he was clinging precariously to the side of a glass with a bit of water at the bottom, half his tail detached and floating sadly beside him. One front leg and one back leg also appeared injured.

Ralph the brown anole, clinging to the side of a glass. CITYNEWS/Dilshad Burman

Ralph was first brought to our attention by a post in a Facebook group saying he was found in the sink of a condo unit — he had likely crawled up the drainpipe. With limited perspective in the photos, we couldn’t quite tell how big or small he was.

Ralph was found in Paul Mutart’s sink. FACEBOOK/Fort York Neighbourhood Association.

Thinking it would be an amusing or even educational little story, we sent our cameraman James out to investigate. When he got there, James was simply handed a glass with Ralph inside and he turned out to be no bigger than a quarter.

That’s how he came to be our temporary newsroom pet, parked on the assignment desk.

As our assignment editor’s shift came to and end, someone had to step up to take over lizard-sitting duties. Being from India, I’m used to house geckos, though I’m usually seen running in the other direction from them. But as the resident bleeding heart animal lover in the office, I took charge of the wee reptile despite my aversions.

But now what? I’m a dog person and have been known to fall for the occasional bird, bunny or raccoon. I knew releasing him was a bad idea — he was too small and clearly hurt — but lizards are far out of my wheelhouse.

I kept an eye on him as I frantically called my partner who is far better with the non-fluffy variety of critter than I. He reminded me that we just so happened to have a reptile expert in our friend circle – I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

Our friend immediately recognized Ralph as a Bahaman or brown anole:

  • The species is not native to Canada. Ralph, like me, was an immigrant.
  • They land up in the country often by hitching a ride, as eggs, in the numerous potted tropical plants you see on sale during the summer, brought over from Florida or California. Ralph was a long way from home, as am I.
  • They like hot and dry climates, do not hibernate in the winter and do not swim – a few other things I share in common with Ralph.
  • So once they hatch, they cannot survive long in the wild because of cool Canadian temps and need to be in a climate controlled environment. Clearly, Ralph was my lizard twin.

 

I was told the best thing to do would be to take him to a pet store where he’d be cared for properly.

A quick web search led my partner to Earth Echoes Reptile Centre owned by Paul Collier. Not only is it rated very highly, but who can resist a place run by a man who goes by the moniker “The Lizard King of Toronto?”

I called him immediately and his kind voice, easy-going demeanor and confidence assured me he was the right man for the job.

I transferred Ralph from the water-filled glass into a dry takeout soup container I had handy, to prepare him for transport. Yes I made some air holes – the movies have taught me that much.

Ralph the brown anole in his dry, transport soup box. CITYNEWS/Dilshad Burman

My lunch break was spent on the TTC, delivering the diminutive dino to his new digs.

As soon as I got there, Paul and his partner Catherine had a mini-mansion all set up for Ralph. They said he looked very spry, alert and healthy despite having a squished front and back leg and only half a tail – which will grow back.

Paul tipped Ralph into the terrarium full of mud, twigs and other lizard luxuries and he immediately looked perfectly at home. Catharine said they expect to see many more like Ralph, as eggs stowed away in potted tropical plants hatch over the summer, so he will soon have new friends.

Ralph the brown anole, in his new home at Earth Echoes.. CITYNEWS/Dilshad Burman

I lingered for a while, watching him settle – I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to my fellow foreign friend.

“Have a nice life, Ralph!” I choked, as I headed back to a now slightly emptier newsroom.

 

If you happen to come upon a lizard like Ralph or his relatives:

  • Do not release it in the wild – it won’t survive.
  • Place it in a dry box or jar with a few twigs and leaves and poke a few small air holes in it.
  • Place a bottle cap full of water for drinking in the box, but make sure it is very shallow – they can drown easily.
  • Keep the box somewhere comfortably warm but not in direct sunlight – you don’t want to cook it.
  • Find a pet store that specializes in reptiles – that’s your best bet if you don’t want to adopt it yourself.
  • Don’t get attached.