Mystery reptile loose in county?
July 30, 2002
By Katharhynn Heidelberg
Journal Staff Writer
Could the Southwest be home to a mysterious new species of reptile?
Nick Sucik, a private researcher from Minnesota, thinks itís possible. Sucik has been tracking sightings of an elusive lizard-like creature ever since
hearing tales of "river dinosaurs" from those involved in the legally sketchy "reptile trade."
The "dino" is said to walk exclusively on its hind legs; to stand about 3 feet tall; and to have armlike appendages instead of forelegs. The reptile
usually is seen near a wet environment and moves swiftly, with grace, Sucik said.
Reports of sightings trickled in, first in Pagosa Springs in 1982, then in Pueblo, Sucik said.
And, he said, the same thing happened here in Cortez ó "But it was kind of unexpected how we heard about it."
An Unsolved Mysteries episode had featured the story of a Cortez couple who had been visiting in Arizona. While there, the couple apparently saw the
body of a reptile unlike any they had ever seen before. "It looked like a toy to them," Sucik said, and when they told their tale, "No one took
Except, perhaps, for Sucik himself.
In an attempt to follow up on the story, Sucik wrote the Journal and later placed a classified ad, seeking communication from anyone who might have
seen the enigmatic reptile. The letter netted a response from Northern California, but the ad brought results from closer to home.
According to Sucik, a woman and her daughter e-mailed him details of a similar sighting that took place in 2001 as they were driving in the Yellow
"Suddenly, this thing runs out. At first, they thought it was a young deer, because of its size," Sucik said.
The women described it as having a long neck and skinny legs like a bird. However, it had no feathers and its "arms" seemed to go out of its upright
neck rather than its body.
The women estimated that the creature would measure about 5 feet, if stretched from neck to tail.
"It looked to them like a cross between a bird and a dinosaur." When they got home, each drew a picture of the creature and realized they had each
seen exactly the same thing, he said.
The description matched that of other sightings, and the women happened to have been near an irrigation creek. "Every reference weíve heard usually
affiliates them with water," Sucik said. "Thatís where the term ëRiver Dinoí comes from."
Sucik discovered it wasnít the first sighting in the area. In March or April 1996, a local woman said she saw something similar near her home at the
Kampark outside Mesa Verde.
"I was sitting on the couch, and looked out the front door," the woman, who did not wish to be identified, told the Journal. "I saw something, not
a lizard, really, about 3 1/2 feet long and 3 1/2 feet high. It moved very fast. As far as I remember, there were only two legs that seemed to balance
She said the creature moved very swiftly, and had a cone-shaped nose and a tail that extended about 2 feet out from its body. It had come from a pond
"It was kind of unusual," she said "I didnít know if I was seeing things, or what. I never had anything like that happen before.
"I thought, ëMaybe itís someoneís petí, I wasnít frightened; I just thought it was unusual."
She checked reference books, but could not find anything similar to what sheíd seen. Jeff Thulin of the Reptile Reserve told her it might have been a
monitor lizard, however, monitors could not live throughout the winter locally.
Thulin said others have since mentioned that they have seen "a large lizard running around. I donít know any specifics at all except that itís large
and looks out of place."
"It doesnít match anything," he said of the description.
The woman said she has tried to put it out of her mind. "Some people think youíre nuts."
Sucik isnít sure what people have seen. A lizard, he said, "is a reptile on four legs. These reptiles are always on their hind legs. The only reptile
to fit that morphology is a dinosaur ó that kind of creates extra interest."
"Itís not strange. Itís like a new species that hasnít been classified in the area."
Sucik said itís possible the reptile is an escapee from trade in exotic pets. Even so, the description doesnít match anything known, he said.
He welcomes reports of sightings at email@example.com or 22969 Old Gov Trail, Nisswa, MN 56468, and also suggests checking