Pet parenting 101: Why the Leopard gecko is the perfect lizard for beginners

By Dr Michael Bradley

These reptiles may be cute, but they need a lot of special care and attention if you're going to keep them as pets

By Dr Michael Bradley |

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Leopard geckos are good to start with; but watch out, they might shed their tail.

More and more people are starting to keep lizards as pets. There are almost 5,000 kinds of lizard and they come in many different shapes and sizes. All lizards have different needs, so you must carefully think about whether you can give the right kind of care to your pet.

Good start

A good pet lizard for beginners is the Leopard gecko. They come from India and Pakistan, and are one of the largest geckos. Unlike the wild geckos that can be found in Hong Kong flats, they don't have the special foot pads that let them climb walls.

Leopard geckos are quiet. They only grow to a length of about 20cm, and can live up to 20 years if cared for properly.

Practical matters

Sadly, many Hongkongers buy reptiles from pet shops without thinking about the care they need. Even the best zoos in the world have a hard time looking after many kinds of lizard. If the zoo keepers find it hard, think what a pet owner can do at home.

Chameleons have become popular in pet shops but they are very hard to keep. Feeding them is tricky. Chameleons are used to a life in the trees of tropical forests, and so they won't drink water from a bowl - they will only drink rain droplets from leaves. Such animals are best left in the wild.

Green iguanas have also been popular in Hong Kong but people now seem to realise just how large they can become if cared for properly. The 15cm cheeky-faced lizard you take home soon turns into a 2-metre-long extra from Jurassic Park!

Hongkongers should consider adopting a pet instead of buying one

Enough sunshine

Reptiles, like people, need sunshine on their skin to make vitamin D, which is very important for their health. Animals kept indoors often don't get enough vitamin D and this can lead to bone problems.

Lizards also need calcium and vitamins in their diet.

Lizard housing

Leopard geckos can easily live in the glass-fronted cases you find in pet shops. As with any pet, the larger the space it has, the better.

To keep your gecko happy, you'll also need a few hiding places. The bottom of its home should be soft and easy to clean. You can either make this look natural and beautiful with sand, rocks and wood, or make it very practical with cardboard boxes for your gecko to hide in. Your gecko won't mind either way!

Leopard geckos are most active at night so they need less light than some other lizards. But it is still important to give them a UV light so they stay healthy. They should have a heat bulb switched on during the day in one corner of the tank. This will make different temperature levels, and allow your gecko to choose the temperature that suits him best.

There is a whole other side of animal cruelty - one that is underground, but just as nasty and damaging

Food and drink

Fresh water should be there at all times. Lizards will feed well on live crickets, which can be bought from bird and reptile shops.

Crickets should be dusted with vitamin and calcium powder to make sure your gecko is getting all the food he needs.

Keep clean

It is important to remember that almost all reptiles carry bacteria called Salmonella. Always remember to wash your hands after touching your pet and after cleaning its tank. Never kiss your lizard - no matter how cute he looks!

Michael Bradley is a vet with Stanley Veterinary Centre, and also works with local Hong Kong wildlife, as a consultant for groups including Ocean Park Conservation Foundation. He has kept almost every sort of pet over the years.