Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Thursday, January 12, 2006


My friend Jim called me with the word that he'd been laid off last week. What's bad news for him, though, is probably good news for Gallotia bravoana.

In June of 1999 a party of biologists in the Canary Islands captured a large lizard on the western island of Gomera. Several lizard species are distributed across the archipelago, all members of the endemic genus Gallotia. Most of them are rather small, like their close mainland relatives, the wall lizards, but this Gomeran giant approached two feet in length. Subfossils of the species had been found on the island, but it had been presumed extinct. The discovery of a live one made a moderate splash in the herpetological world, and the European Union declared G. bravoana Europe's rarest reptile. Conservation and captive-breeding programs were set up, and Jim was hired to manage the project.

A small population was found on a rocky bluff overlooking the coastline. This habitat was likely not their preference, but the only part of the island where they were not vulnerable to the feral cats that proliferated across the lowlands. A campaign of cat removal was initiated, and several adult lizards were captured and relocated to a breeding facility that Jim had designed specifically for the task.
In the succeeding four years, the project has produced fifty-seven animals, and Jim reckons the wild population is now something over 100. He took the job with the ultimate goal of making himself redundant, and succeeded beyond expectations. Less than seven years after its discovery, a moribund, relict population appears to have been transformed into a viable one. Too rarely do stories of human interference end so happily. Hats off to my friend in the Canaries; here's a toast to your unemployment!
upper: GIANT GOMERAN LIZARD (2001) Acrylic 20" x 15"
lower: Galliota bravoana hatching. Photograph by Jim Pether.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! What a feel good start to the work day. As a herpetology nut, I'm thrilled to read of herp conservation success stories, increasingly rare though they may be. Your friend, Jim, deserves many rounds on all of us!

(And I'm also pleased to read of feral cat eradification efforts that are carried out without undue, usually ignorant resistance. I write that as a cat and wildlife lover.)

8:17 AM  

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