Canary island giant lizard sighting gives hope to local biologists

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Experts previously believed 30-centimeter-long reptile had been wiped out.

20 December 2007

MADRID - A large lizard long thought to be extinct has been sighted on the tiny Canary Island of La Palma, biologists disclosed Wednesday.

The animal, measuring more than 30 centimetres nose to tail, was photographed in July by Luis Enrique Mínguez, a researcher at IREC, a wildlife research institute, during a hike across the northeast of the island.

The discovery, which has given biologists new hope of taking other reptiles off the extinct species list, was made public yesterday by José Antonio Mateo, a fellow biologist on the neighbouring island of La Gomera.

Mateo said that careful analysis of Mínguez's photos and a visit to the area by a team of researchers had led specialists to conclude that the animal was indeed the La Palma giant lizard, gallotia auaritae, which biologists believed had vanished from the island centuries ago. Human hunting for meat, the introduction of domestic cats and clearing of land for agriculture were the main reasons blamed for its disappearance.

Big reptile sightings
However, some biologists suspected that it may have survived in remote, uninhabited areas of La Palma. They drew hope from the rediscovery of other giant lizard species on other islands in the Canaries chain in recent years and from sporadic reports of sightings of big reptiles by locals on La Palma.

Mateo told reporters yesterday that Mínguez saw the lizard beside a forest track on 13 July in an area about 45 metres above sea level. He said he took the photos when he was about 10 metres from the animal, which showed little fear of his presence and from its size appeared to be about five years old. A subsequent visit to the location by a team of researchers in October resulted in no new sightings, although Mateo said that the time of year and weather were not favourable.

The researchers are planning new expeditions to the area in the hope of finding more specimens and possibly a breeding population. The sighting of the La Palma lizard marks the third rediscovery of a large reptile long thought extinct in the Canary Islands, after similar lizards were found to still be living on El Hierro and La Gomera in 1974 and 1999, respectively.

[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL. 2007]

Subject: Spanish news

1 Comment To This Article

  • Keith Corbett posted:

    on 10th November 2008, 20:34:57 - Reply

    As a herpetologist and avid conservationist, I am
    very excited with this news. In Europe, I and colleagues made input to the original Hierro find,
    and then watched as surviving and related populations were progressively found on Gomera and
    then Tenerife. This La Palma find is the lizard
    "icing on this cake" !
    Well done to the field workers.