Saturday 12 June 2010

Maltese mystery: Naturalist and government disagree on extinction of Malta lizard

The Selmunett lizard (Podarcis filfolensis ssp. kieselbachi) of Malta has been extinct since 2005, contrary to a government report that claims it still exists, the Nature Trust (Malta) announced this week. The lizard existed only on Selmunett Island, part of the archipelago that makes up the nation of Malta. Despite research that says the species is extinct, the lizard still appears on the Malta Environment & Planning Authority's (MEPA) most recent "State of the Environment" report, published in March.

Naturalist Arnold Sciberras blames the decline and disappearance of the Selmunett lizard on invasive rats, which have grown in number on the island in the past two decades. Sciberras and his brother Jeffrey have studied the once-common lizards for years and noticed that the population began crashing in the mid-1990s. The last time they saw the lizards was in 2003, when they were able to find just 30 of the animals. "MEPA doesn't want to acknowledge that its conservation attempts have failed in some cases," Sciberras told MaltaToday.

Nature Trust (Malta) used the occasion of World Environment Day to talk about the Selmunett lizard and several other Maltese species that are currently at risk. The freshwater Maltese crab known as il-qabru (Potamon fluviatile), for example, is losing habitat to construction projects and populations have been hurt by the use of toxic pesticides. Other portions of its habitat were damaged by a recent oil spill.

Another species at risk in the region is the Maghrebian bat (Myotis punicus), which recently had a road built on top of one of its primary cave habitats.

Covering an area of just 300 square kilometers and home to a population of around 400,000, Malta is one of the world's most densely populated countries. According to Nature Trust (Malta) and the Malta National Statistics Office, 64 percent of the island nation is "unfavorable" to wildlife.

Photo: Selmunett lizard
By John Platt, Scientific American
(Submitted by Chad Arment)

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