Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The party’s over for the striped legless lizard in Australia's capital

One of the last populations in Australia of this near-extinct reptile is being moved from Canberra to a property 75km south in a do-or-die operation

Wednesday 14 October 2015 02.12 BST Last modified on Wednesday 14 October 201511.04 BST

On the frontline of saving a rare Australian reptile species near Canberra, the essential requirements are a large number of clay tiles, some quick reflexes and the hope that you haven’t accidentally grasped at one of the world’s most venomous snakes.

An unremarkable looking plot of land opposite Canberra’s Exhibition Park is where conservationists are attempting the rescue of the reptile, the vulnerable striped legless lizard.

In many ways, the razing of this land is emblematic of how Australia has managed to get itself the worst species extinction record in the world, almost before the country really understood how it got into this position.

The grassland site, next to the Federal Highway that links Canberra to Sydney, is being flattened to create a caravan park and tourist accommodation for up to 480 people. The developer, FreeSpirit, has to find an area of compensatory land elsewhere to “offset” the loss of the grassland.

Unfortunately the denizens of the grassland are unaware their home is set to be torn asunder and only the intervention of a conservation group, Bush Heritage Australia, is saving 200 striped legless lizards, one of the last populations of the species left in the country.

The other grassland species, including olive and bluetongue lizards, will be left to the bulldozers.

South-east Australia has lost 99% of its grasslands since Europeans arrived and decided that houses, cattle and sheep were suited for these treeless, largely unloved areas.

“Protecting grasslands is a hard thing to sell to people – they aren’t particularly valued,” says Peter Saunders, a Bush Heritage landscape manager who spends much of his time in such environments under a wide-brimmed hat.

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