Nelson Leader : March 14th 2013
14 THE NELSON LEADER, MARCH 14, 2013 FEATURE Lizards are this teacher's 'mates' Two minutes w ith... Lizard lady: Waimea Intermediate teacher Emma Hunter with class pets Frankie the blue-tongued lizard, foreground, and baby bearded dragon Gizmo. The tank behind her houses a turtle. Photo: SARAH DUNN Emma Hunter teaches Year 7 class Room 18 at Waimea Intermediate. A lifelong lover of lizards, she has made a name for herself over the last three years by taking in lizards whose owners cannot afford to keep them. The Leader spoke with Emma about her passion for rep- tiles. What sparked your interest in lizards? It was really about our native lizards. Here at school, we devel- oped a native skink garden about four years ago to provide a sanctu- ary for them. In New Zealand people often don't realise we have over 60 types of native lizards and new ones are still being discovered. What's happened now with exotic lizards is that a lot of people have them as pets, and there is a chance they could also be intro- duced and challenge the native animals for food. People weren't taking seriously the challenge of looking after an exotic lizard, so I got the exotic lizards and gave them a home. What is it that you like about lizards? They're different. They have their own personalities that peo- ple don't realise. People are amazed and awed by them. They're unique, and I just find them incredible. Every lizard and reptile is entirely different. Do you have a favourite species? Bearded dragons, by far. They're friendly, they're quirky, they know you and they become your best mate. I personally find them friendlier than dogs and cats and they know me. I go to Natureland and my two that are there know my voice. They look up as soon as I walk in. How many of those do you have? At the moment for my personal pets, I've got five inland bearded dragons, but I've got three differ- ent specimens of bearded dragon as well. How many lizards do you have overall? Honestly, I would have to count them but it would be over 20. Are they all pets or is it more like a small-scale animal shel- ter? I've got native lizards as well, and then I've also got some babies which will be rehomed. There are around 10 personal pets which are mine. The others I'll look after and then find homes for. How many orphan lizards would you take in each year? Last year it was two bearded dragons and a blue-tongued liz- ard. We get lots of skinks brought in just randomly by the public because of cats attacking them, so we put them into our skinks sanc- tuary. I couldn't tell you how many phone calls I get from peo- ple wanting help managing and looking after their lizards. When you're rehoming the lizards, how do you make sure their new home is a good one? I work really closely with Urban Tails in Richmond and they help me choose the people. They make sure everyone has the right set-up first. Often people will photograph the set-up or I'll come and check the situation first. Do you have to breed insects and mice at home to feed them? Yes, you do. What about if you just had one lizard? Even one. You need that con- stant food source. Mice and insects are so important, or if you don't breed them you should be prepared to buy them. It's expens- ive. You've got to have fresh vegetables every day for your lizards as well. How many reptiles do you keep at school? Madonna and Guy are our classroom lizards. They're on loan to Natureland. We have a couple of turtles, one who is constantly laying her eggs and eating them at the moment. We have an incubating turtle egg, which is very cute, hopefully we'll be hav- ing a baby there. We have a blue- tongue lizard and a coastal bearded dragon. She's from the East Coast of Australia. We also have a central bearded dragon who is about a year old. What do the kids get out of it?They learn respect for animals. They'll constantly ask, Can we get the animal out?'' and I ask them, Would you want to be han- dled and annoyed all day?'' They learn about empathy, putting themselves in other people's shoes and giving animals space, but they also learn about self- management by caring for the animals. A lot of the kids here think they'd love to have a blue-tongued lizard or a bearded dragon, but this shows them the care and management involved with that. They also manage the native geckos and skink gardens we have here. What kind of natives would Nelson people be most likely to find in their gardens? The New Zealand common skink, definitely. Up around the Maitai area, the Boulder Bank, Haulashore Island and the lake area, you've got the New Zealand common gecko and the Nelson green gecko. What's the Nelson gecko like? It's the most beautiful, beauti- ful, beautiful gecko. It's so rare and so prized by poachers. It is the most precious thing. What can people do to encourage more native lizards to live on their property? Keep your cats in at night. That is absolutely critical. The other thing is to have a messy garden with lots of rocks and places for lizards to hide. Lots of low-lying shrubs and terracotta pots to make hiding places for them. You can have cats and lizards. I've got three cats, believe it or not, and it's no problem.
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