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Earless dragon rediscovery like finding the Tasmanian tiger

  • 1.  Earless dragon rediscovery like finding the Tasmanian tiger

    Posted 27-06-2023 16:06

    Earless dragon rediscovery like finding the Tasmanian tiger

    Sydney Morning Herald 
    Annika Smethurst

    A tiny lizard species described as the "most endangered reptile in the world" has been found in grasslands west of Melbourne in a development that scientists are comparing to rediscovering the Tasmanian tiger.

    The first Victorian grassland earless dragon to be sighted in more than 50 years, was discovered in February by two early career ecologists who captured a photo of the reptile which was thought to be extinct.

    The Victorian grassland earless dragon was last sighted in 1969.CREDIT:MELBOURNE ZOO

    The photo was passed on to Peter Robertson, the state's premier reptile expert, who identified it as a Victorian grassland earless dragon which only grows as long as an iPhone.

    The last confirmed sighting of the dragon was near Geelong in 1969 as the swinging '60s were drawing to a close. It was the year humans first set foot on the Moon, John Gorton was prime minister, and the Beatles recorded their final studio album, Abbey Road.

    Garry Peterson, general manager threatened species at Zoos Victoria, said the finding could be compared to "rediscovering the thylacine - the Tasmanian tiger - it's that significant".

    "We have got people that have spent 30 years looking for this species and I think for the collective team that are involved it's probably the pinnacle of our conservation careers," he said.

    Commonly found in native grasslands west of Melbourne, the species was considered extinct due to habitat loss and predators like foxes and feral cats. CREDIT:MELBOURNE ZOO

    Researchers won't reveal the exact location of the lizard population to protect them from the public. But scientists have spent three days a week for the past four months at the mystery grassland where they have collected a total of 16 dragons to be included in a breeding program at Melbourne Zoo in spring.

    While it is unlikely the tiny reptile will be on display, experts hope to build up the population and reintroduce them into the wild.

    The small brown lizard with stripes running down its body is described as a "boom and bust species". It reaches maturity within 12 months, allowing it to breed before dying within two years. Peterson said their short life cycle makes them more susceptible to threats such as predators, extreme weather events and loss of habitat.

    The tiny reptiles rely on spiders to build borrows which the dragon then use for shelter, to lay eggs or escape predators.

    The Albanese and Andrews governments are jointly investing $188,000 to help scientists find more populations of the dragon which will include the use of sniffer dogs to help locate the species.

    Zoos Victoria chief executive Dr Jenny Gray said the funding will assist expert teams to find more dragons and grow the numbers.

    "We are pretty excited. Dragons are a big deal and to have such an endangered dragon in our population is just something that makes us incredibly excited," she said.

    "This is probably the most endangered reptile in the world with only 16 verified individuals in safe care, so to be able to work with an animal like this is both an incredible challenge and incredible opportunity.

    "The extraordinary rediscovery of this critically endangered and cryptic lizard inspires optimism for the recovery of this Victorian species."

    Environment Minister Ingrid Stitt said the amazing discovery or the "cute" species will ensure future generations can see and learn about this "incredibly unique lizard".

    "We will continue to work hard at protecting Victoria's most vulnerable creatures and secure their future for generations to come."

    Source: Sydney Morning Herald, Annika Smethurst


    Gabrielle Stacey
    Landcare Australia