Lizards would love visitors at new lodgings

Guy and Madonna are pretty happy with their holiday spot.

The bearded dragons - named after pop superstar Madonna and her former husband Guy Ritchie - are a new short-term display at Nelson's Natureland Zoo. They are joined by Ziggy, a blue-tongued lizard.

Waimea Intermediate teacher and reptile breeder Emma Hunter is loaning the exotic reptiles to the zoo from her private collection in an effort to raise interest and awareness in reptiles.

Mrs Hunter has been breeding dragons for years and has them set up in her classroom as a learning tool.

The friendly reptiles have free range over the desks.

The creatures will be at Natureland for a few weeks.

Operations manager Gail Sutton said the zoo would conduct a keeper talk each afternoon and the reptiles would be available for visitor encounters.

Visitors would be able to make comparisons with the reptiles with the native tuatara.

"Interacting with our Australian reptile neighbours provides a glimpse into how precious our own, often underrated, native reptiles actually are," she said.

Mrs Hunter said she was delighted to lend the zoo her lizards.

She said the reptiles enjoyed spending time outside of their enclosures, socialising with the pupils in and outside of the classroom.

"These friendly reptiles have become so accustomed to company they often knock on their tanks asking to be let out and hang out with the kids.

"The reptiles provide students with unique, hands-on, interactive opportunities that engage them in an authentic learning context."

She said while exotic reptiles made great pets, it was easier for people to attract lizards into their own backyard. There are more than 60 types of native reptiles in New Zealand.

Making your garden lizard-friendly includes ensuring lots of hiding places like rock piles to escape from predators. Messy gardens are best.

Regarding pets, people often take on lizards unaware they have a life-expectancy of 15 to 20 years. Many are also unprepared to breed the live food needed to feed their reptiles or cannot afford the lighting and heating they need.

Mrs Hunter has 23 lizards at home, many of which belonged to people who could not afford to look after them.

"That's why I'm known as the mad lizard lady."

The Nelson Mail