LAKE GEORGE, Colo. – When new rangers are in training, a common phrase we hear is “we cannot train you for everything that may happen, because anything can happen.”
One of those “anythings” happened in July at Eleven Mile State Park.
I was in my office when a seasonal ranger said a visitor had found an iguana in one of our campgrounds. My first reaction was “sure they did.”
I have responded to calls of eagles struggling in the water. I’ve had a gull wrapped in fishing line. I’ve answered calls about skunks that were actually raccoons. And there was a report of a fox that was, in fact, a Labrador.
So when I heard an iguana had taken up residence in the campground, I was skeptical.
After all, iguanas are heat-loving natives of the tropics. They can’t survive at 8,600 feet altitude, where our average high in January is just 32 degrees and the average low is a brisk -2 degrees. Pretty tough sledding for an animal that can’t regulate its body temperature.
Imagine my surprise when I confirmed there was, in fact, an iguana in our campground. A camper saw it before going to bed one night and then found it the next day on the edge of his boat.
The camper assumed the iguana had escaped from another guest. And it was not a bad guess.
Unbelievably, people bring a lot of different pets on their camping trips: ferrets, snakes, parrots, cats, etc.
The camper watched the iguana and realized it was trying to warm itself by soaking up heat from his metal boat. When he approached the lizard, it didn’t try to run. In fact, it let him pick it up without a fight. He quickly determined the iguana was dangerously cold.
The next big question for us was: “Well, now what?” I assumed it was an escapee from a visitor, so we had to keep it in case someone reported him missing. But we don’t really have an “iguana section” in our Lost and Found box.
So it became my office mate.
Lucky for the iguana that I am a snake keeper and I know the importance of keeping reptiles warm. Even luckier, I happened to have an extra heat lamp handy. The rest of my staff came to the rescue as well.
Our ranger Derek attached the light to a large dog crate. Then we arranged a space heater to keep the floor warm. Other staff brought in fresh fruits and veggies to feed it.
We named the iguana Miles. Soon, as it warmed up, Miles had the run of my office. During the day, Miles alternated between basking under his light and exploring the office. His favorite spot was the back of my chair. He spent hours on it, sleeping or looking around.
A not-so-fun fact, I am not a tropical creature. My internal thermostat runs warm, so I like things cool. But to keep Miles alive, I had to turn my office into a sauna.
But there were benefits. For nearly a week, I got to enjoy my new, exotic friend, Miles.