Jordan Jefferies pets an African fat-tailed gecko Dec. 24, 2013, at the Delaware Wildlife Rehabilitators Association in Bear, Del.
(Photo: Daniel Sato, The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal)
BEAR, Delaware (USA TODAY) - A little lizard, stolen from a wildlife rehabilitation center almost six months ago, is back at home - thanks in part to his "wanted" poster.
The male African fat-tailed gecko was stolen in early July from the nonprofit Delaware Wildlife Rehabilitators Association here along with an undisclosed amount of money from a donation box. Workers at the association thought he was dead but they still distributed his photo, just in case.
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"The odds of him turning up again were one in a million - or less," wildlife rehabilitator Hilary Taylor said. "It's a Christmas miracle."
A few days before Christmas, a woman who wanted to get rid of a gecko brought him to a pet store near the rehab center.
"It was a drop-off," said Christine Jones of Pet Kare. "We get a lot of those." But after the woman left, staff looked at the gecko and recognized him from his photo, hanging in their office since the theft.
Not at all like the green, animated Geico Insurance gecko, this brown-banded one has a fat tail with markings that resemble a second head at the other end of his stubby 6-inch body. Guests at the rehabilitation center are allowed to pet and hold the gecko, which made him an excellent wildlife ambassador, Taylor said.
"That's why I was so devastated to lose him," she said. "Oh, the little boys just love him, with that 'second head,' "
The burglary shocked Taylor and her husband, Charles. It was the first crime at the center since its start in the 1960s.
Because of this nameless gecko's precise nutritional needs - live crickets, mealworms, vitamins and calcium as well as exacting heat and lighting - Taylor figured he was a goner.
"They shed like snakes," Taylor said. "And if they're not warm enough, if they don't shed, the skin builds up and it cuts off their circulation, so they can lose their toes."
She had saved his life twice. He was near death when the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals seized him from neglectful owners, who briefly got them back, she said.
He lost some weight while he was away but otherwise is doing fine - and eating well - she said.
Taylor set up the little guy's heat-lamped habitat in her office, just as it had been, and the gecko "knew he was home," she said. "Ordinarily, when you put them in, they would sniff around, but not him, he went straight into his little house."
Exactly who took him remains a mystery, a closed case for the moment.
"The state police were wonderful and they took it really seriously," Taylor said. The person who dropped off the gecko "said she got it from a friend who got it from a friend. She told one story at the pet shop and another to police, so it would be really hard to pursue."
If the thief or anyone who received the stolen gecko were revealed, state police would review possible charges with the Delaware Attorney General's Office, said Cpl. John Day of the Delaware State Police.
After the theft, the rehabilitation center received some donations, which Taylor used for improvements that included a security system.
"He's back, and that's what's important," she said, giving the gecko a tickle under his chin. "The police have a lot more important crimes to investigate."
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