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Conserving one of the world’s rarest lizards

As many of you reading this may already be aware, Zoo Atlanta has long been working with one of the most endangered lizards in the world, the Guatemalan beaded lizard (Heloderma charlesbogerti). These venomous lizards are only found in Guatemala’s Motagua Valley, which is composed of largely dry, scrubby habitat.

Along with maintaining a colony of this species here, Zoo Atlanta has had a history of partnering with colleagues in Guatemala to work toward conservation of the beaded lizard in its natural range. As a part of our ongoing and developing partnerships, we recently hosted a colleague from the La Aurora Zoo in Guatemala City. They hold a colony of beaded lizards as well and are working on breeding efforts for their animals. The Zoo is working with the Guatemalan government on a national plan to help augment wild populations of beaded lizards with offspring of zoo-bred animals. Our visit focused on discussing husbandry between our facilities and the possibility of further ways Zoo Atlanta might be able to support this effort moving forward. Conserving these amazing animals will be a multi-generational and multi-institutional effort. The Zoo is also partnering with the Reserva Heloderma. As the name implies, it is a 58 hectare reserve dedicated to protecting beaded lizards and their habitat within their natural range.

Threats to wild Guatemalan beaded lizards include habitat loss and wanton killing due to beliefs that they are dangerous to humans. The wild population of Guatemalan beaded lizards is estimated to be less than 500 individuals. Believe it or not, this is promising, as in previous years the population was estimated to be under 300 individuals. Some of this increase can be attributed to educational efforts to reduce killing wild animals and protection of land by various agencies.

Being able to visit with colleagues from other facilities is incredibly important to further conservation goals, and we are grateful we got to have time with our counterpart in Guatemala. Sharing what we have learned over the last nearly two decades of work with Guatemalan beaded lizards is an incredibly important part of how Zoo Atlanta can help this species in its home country. Collaborations are what make conservation work!

Please stop in at Scaly Slimy Spectacular to visit some of our beaded lizards! Happy and Herpy Holidays!

(photo: Robert Hill)

Robert Hill
Associate Curator of Herpetology

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl