Friday, 9 June 2017

New species discovered behind a pub – then saved from extinction

In 2007, conservationists discovered a new species inhabiting a beach just behind a pub in Granity, New Zealand. But could they save it before erosion and rising waters wiped it off the face of the planet? 

Jeremy Hance
Thursday 1 June 2017 14.47 BST Last modified on Thursday 1 June 2017 15.24 BST 

Who says village life has to be boring? Granity, New Zealand may be home to less than 300 people, but this lovely seaside village on the western coast of South Island was also – until last year – home to a species found no-where else on Earth. And today, the town has quite the tale to tell.

In 2007 reptile expert Tony Jewell noticed there was something very different about the little lizards that skittered beneath the cobble stones on the beach behind Miners on Sea pub and hotel in Granity. Built in 1892, the pub has a long history of serving nearby mining communities. 

Jewell was so convinced of the reptile’s distinctness that he included them as a separate species in his 2008 edition of A Photographic Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of New Zealand. Although similar to the more common speckled skink, these Miners-on-Sea skinks were smaller and sported bigger eyes.

“Perhaps adaptations to wriggling through the gloomy spaces beneath the ‘cobble’,” Richard Gibson, with the Auckland Zoo, explained. 

Conservationists began referring to this population as ‘cobble skinks,’ since they only inhabited the cobble stones that lined the beach near Granity. 

But things quickly became dire for the newly discovered skinks. Eight years after Jewell discovered the population, two surveys, one in 2015 and 2016, counted only around 30 animals left. 

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