A Taronga Conservation Field Grant in 2015 supports a conservation program for the unique Alligator lizard of Guatemala. Campbell’s alligator lizard is considered the most endangered species in its genus (Abronia). Described as a new species only in 1993, it was presumed to be extinct shortly after this, but a small population was re-discovered in 2010. It is a fully arboreal lizard that lives only in bromeliads and other epiphytes found in two species ofoak tree. Currently only 423 oak trees remain in random patches across its small area of habitat. Here is our first report from the field team.
The main threat to Campbell’s Alligator lizard is habitat loss mainly from the cutting of forests for firewood and land use change from local farmers. In response to this the project team designed a reforestation program that involves both habitat restoration and the creation of rapid growth forests aimed to provide firewood for heating and cooking to the local community. Collecting firewood is a part of daily life in rural areas, so proper management, sustainable exploitation and the wise use of this resource is an important issue to address.
Results to date are:
1. Great progress with the seedling nursery so that it will be able to produce the amount and type of tree species needed for the reforestation programs, both for the habitat restoration plan and the rapid growth community forest;
2. An education program has begun in the local schools to teach children about the conseration status of the alligator lizard and the critical role this species plays in the ecosystem and the importance of protecting native fauna and flora. The education efforts for children reach more than 2500 school kids annually. As part of the activities, live specimens of the alligator lizard are brought to the schools. Because this lizard is believed to be poisonous, it is usually killed on sight.
The next steps include conducting four additional community workshops in order to design a work plan that matches local schedules and the project's conservation goals and to build local capacity to implement the reforestation portion of the project. The team has also begun to implement the reforestation plan for the local farm owners based on prior agreements. The team expect to have completed at least half of all conservation education talks in the schools in the next few months.
Meetings with community leaders confirm that the rapid growth forest will be helpful and useful to the community and will go far to meet an urgent firewood need in the area. They also recognized the need to raise awareness in the community on the proper management of firewood, to ensure this natural resource for future generations.