Endearing little dragon needs protection

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Copy of ct Smaug giganteus - Sungazer  Copyright Johan Marais _ (10) SUPPLIED THREATENED: The sungazer lizard, named after Tolkiens fictional dragon Smaug in his book The Hobbit, is being threatened with extinction. Picture: JOHAN MARAIS

Cape Town - It’s South Africa’s own little dragon, named after Smaug, the great dragon of Middle-Earth.

And like Smaug in JRR Tolkein’s novel The Hobbit, the days of our own dragon are numbered and the creature faces extinction.

But unlike the dragon encountered by Bilbo Baggins, the little South Africa dragon does not deserve to die. It has laid waste no towns and lands like its fictional counterpart. Instead its own homeland has been laid waste by humans, mainly through farming, but also coal mining. Some people even sell them as pets.

Now the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) has called on the public to save our little dragon by signing a petition calling on the Department of Arts and Culture to recognise these highly threatened creatures as South Africa’s national lizard. This, it believes, will “afford these iconic creatures much-needed protection from the forces that threaten their survival”.

Ian Little, manager of EWT’s Threatened Grassland Species Programme, said on Tuesday that farming was the biggest threat to the big lizards. By 1992 about 42 percent of its habitat was used for farming.

“One of our students did a two-year survey and we now know their distribution and the hot spots where they are abundant, and it’s 99 percent on private land. There are four key areas and we’re working with landowners to try to get them to be protected. All landowners we’ve spoken to are happy to have the lizards on their land.They are endearing creatures.”

 

The lizards, which grow to 35cm to 40cm, are known as girdled lizards, sungazers, as ouvolk in Afrikaans and pagataly in Sotho.

 

Until recently, the little dragon was lumped together with another group of lizards. However, with genetic testing, scientists were able to establish that it was totally different. “It was named by a colleague, Ed Stanley, about three years ago. He named it Smaug giganteus after Smaug, the dragon in The Hobbit,” Little said.

EWT was working with the land owners and provincial nature conservation bodies to get some of the Smaug’s homeland protected, mostly in north-east Free State and southern Mpumalanga. - Cape Times

 

The petition is at: secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Department_of_Arts_and_Culture_Make_Sungazers_South_Africas_national_lizard/

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