Simon – The Iguana Who Started it All

Ryan and Simon

As a professional biologist, I knew better. But, I am also a mother; which means that I too sometimes abandon all sense and logic to appease the pleadings of one of my adorable, and always convincing, children. Meet Simon, the iguana who started it all.

There was Simon, perched lopsided on that branch in that crummy pet store. He was maybe 6 inches long and bright green. His twisted and broken back leg lay at an odd angle and his rounded puffy thighs didn’t match his emaciated tail and torso, a telltale sign of MBD (metabolic bone disease). He was one sick, green iguana hatchling. These guys are farmed in Mexico, Central and South America, over-packed in tight boxes, and shipped by the thousands to pet stores. Once on display, eager children convince their parents to buy them one as a “cool” pet—”It’s like having my own dinosaur, Mommy!” Most hatchlings will never survive a month, let alone a year. Without the proper lighting, heat, humidity, food, and supplements, they almost always die young.

There was my son, six years old, with his blond head turned to the side, staring at the pitiful, little green lizard. He didn’t beg for a pet. No, that would have been too easy for me to turn down. “Save him, Mommy. He’s too skinny and he looks so sad. Can’t we take him home and save him? We can’t let him stay here to die!” Now, I was in trouble. He aimed for the heart, bulls-eye! How could his Mommy not rescue this pitiful baby lizard? I knew better…I really knew better.

We named him Simon, after a Saturday Night Live Mike Myer’s character that my son liked. “He won’t eat his iguana salad, Mom.” Nope, wouldn’t touch a bite—lizard anorexia, too. Great. Weeks of vegetable baby food, hand-fed through a syringe, drop-by-drop..and calcium supplements…and heat lights…and sunshine. I knew better. Simon would live. Simon would live a long, long, time.

Big SimonFast forward 15 years. My 6-year old boy is now 21-years old. He’s away at college studying to be a wildlife biologist (surprise). And, I am here, still taking care of Simon.

As you can see, Simon is now one BIG lizard, about 4-foot long. He is a favorite stage star for Zooniversity’s educational shows. You might recognize him. His image is part of our company logo. There he is, draped across the top of our company name, looking very green and very regal. But, don’t take that as an endorsement for owning an iguana as a pet. Far from it! Iguanas are the #1 most abandoned pet in the exotic pet industry, and for good reason.

If you do your research, and invest a ton of money into proper caging, lighting and heating, you too can raise an iguana to adulthood. But, we do not recommend you try this at home. You see, adult iguanas do NOT make good pets. They are naturally territorial and they will defend their branch or tree with a quick scratch or tail whip. If they get a bit too amorous with their human, they can bite (part of natural mating behavior), and they do NOT let go. Their strong, muscular legs and razor sharp claws can climb trees, or your body, in an instant, leaving a trail of damage behind. And, of course, if you are silly enough to let them crawl and climb across your human furnishings, they can leave an invisible trail of salmonella for your family to enjoy. These are NOT good pets.

Simon 7 ryan - close great 2Simon was our first exotic rescue. More rescues seemed to find us, LOTS more. All those mouths to feed and all those vet expenses to pay, generated the idea of a wildlife education service—and Zooniversity was born. Today we are caring for more than 50 species of rescued exotic animals at Zooniversity, most of whom are unwanted or abandoned, former pets. We think it’s only fitting that Simon be our mascot and part of our logo. After all, he is the iguana who started it all.

UPDATE (March 10, 2015): Simon peacefully passed away of old age at the unheard of age of 22 years. Thanks for starting it all, Simon. You will always be remembered by us and thousands of children who learned from you. Oh, and your boy — he did end-up becoming a very successful wildlife biologist. Thanks for starting that, too.


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