Watch for a big lizard crossing Joppa Road, have pity


In the past two weeks, a Towson couple found two exotic lizards in their back yard -- one dead, one alive; one about 6 feet long, the other about 3 feet. The smaller one apparently was killed by dogs. The larger one vanished into adjoining woods. Strange stuff. I guess you're wondering what gives here.

Anthony Wisnieski, reptile curator for the Baltimore Zoo, examined the dead animal and determined that it was an Asian water monitor, a carnivorous, tree-climbing lizard closely related to the iguanas. Wisnieski speculated that the monitor had been someone's pet and had escaped. He did not spot the larger lizard, which apparently is still loose.

Wisnieski said monitors can grow up to 6 feet long. They thrive in warm weather, but will not survive a Maryland winter.

The incident points up a problem: People who purchase reptiles as pets without understanding (or simply ignoring) the animals' potential for growth. Wisnieski said the Baltimore Zoo receives three to five calls per week from people who want to donate pythons, boa constrictors, iguanas, monitors or caimans that have grown larger than their owners anticipated. The zoo does not accept them. "We would have to build two or three more reptile houses," Wisnieski explained. If you see a big lizard crossing Joppa Road, pity the poor thing, stay away from it and call animal control.

City on a roll

I liked what I saw last Wednesday night around dusk. I was in Burdick Park, in Hamilton, with Virgilio Guglielmi, and we were practicing boccie on the tree-shrouded court to which Guglielmi has devoted many hours of grooming. It is an excellent court. "The ball goes where you roll it," Guglielmi says with high pride. He packs the dirt court, he rakes it, he sweeps it. The balls roll true. Guglielmi tells me the city has promised to install a light so he and his boccie comrades can play into the night.

While we practiced our boccie, children played on Burdick's swings and slides, young men and women pushed babies in strollers, and an elderly man raked out the horseshoe pits. There was a baseball game in an adjoining field. About 8 o'clock, I drove down Walther Avenue and passed numerous walkers, joggers and bikers, all the way to Harford Road. Then I turned onto Montebello Drive and, all around the lake, there were more people -- men and women, black and white, jogging or walking, Rollerblading, pushing baby carriages. A happy sight. Some days, even some nights, Baltimore is a better place than we think.

Hot polyester blues

Have you noticed that Baltimore police officers and sergeants are wearing dark blue shirts? "They're hot as hell, too," a street cop told me the other day. White was standard until recently. The Police Department used to issue six long-sleeve and six short-sleeve white shirts to each officer. Now, until more shirts are ordered by the city during the next fiscal year, officers and sergeants are getting only four of each, in polyester midnight blue. In the meantime, if they want more shirts, cops can buy them at a wholesale price. Nice. A veteran cop told me he's heard a lot of grumbling about this. And he scoffs at the reason given for the change -- that white shirts make targets of cops in potentially violent situations. Commissioner Thomas Frazier ordered the new shirts. I hear the Commish is out of the country, by the way, on some fact-finding mission. Here's hoping he doesn't come back with more fashion ideas.

A peeling testimonial

The other day, Ingmar Burger, our Remington correspondent, told me there's a paint removal company with a unique (and probably inadvertent) way of advertising: The paint is peeling off the sign in front of its shop. "No way," I said, and bet him lunch just to teach him a lesson. Lunch cost me $12.50, plus tip.

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