Cuddly as an . . . iguana? Slithering suburbs: Unlike snakes, Floyd the fugitive reptile evokes community sympathy.

September 18, 1997

IMAGINE A BOA CONSTRICTOR on the loose. Would anyone care about the well-being of the fearsome creature? Not likely. Any concern would be reserved for safety of residents.

In Baltimore County's Glen Arm, a community is outraged over a neighbor's indoor breeding farm for pythons and boa constrictors. In Howard County's Ellicott City, however, where a domesticated reptile is on the loose, there is no fear from residents, only sympathy that something awful will happen to the critter. Neighbors are forming search parties to find Floyd the iguana before he succumbs to cold weather or human predators.

A double standard for exotic pets? Perhaps, but a justifiable one. Slithering creatures like boas and pythons can be as dangerous as they look. That is why Glen Arm resident Peter Kahl is facing opposition from neighbors concerned that he is cultivating rare snakes in his basement and are rattled by his plan to house them in a 50-by-100-foot building.

Mr. Kahl's neighbors are challenging a proposed "snake pit" on his five-acre property, petitioning Baltimore County officials for a special zoning hearing Monday.

The owner's insistence that the snakes are nonpoisonous seems not to matter one bit. Deserved or not, snakes have a public relations problem that goes back as far as Adam and Eve. Residents don't understand how Baltimore County's Agricultural Preservation Advisory Board could conclude that snake-breeding is akin to breeding horses or aquaculture.

So how do we explain Ellicott City's warmth for cold-blooded Floyd, apparently the most winsome lizard since Barney the dinosaur?

Although the iguana would look scary with its five-foot long frame and its scaly stare, it is tamer than a pussycat. Floyd will attack only in self-defense. Unlike his snake cousins, he is a herbivore who prefers tree leaves to Chihuahuas.

Expect a good crowd for Floyd's search party on Church Road in Ellicott City's historic district at 5: 30 p.m. tomorrow. Helpers are urged to wear sturdy pants and long-sleeved shirts and to bring binoculars if possible to look for the giant iguana. With a vegetarian barbecue to follow, it will be a virtual FloydFest. A python should only be so lucky.

Pub Date: 9/18/97

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