Aussie dragon thought to be extinct rediscovered in Victoria

By AG Staff / AAP 26 June 2023
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The discovery has conservationists and nature-lovers buzzing.

A small population of Victorian grassland earless dragons has been found in the wild for the first time since 1969, with the species previously assumed extinct.

Once commonly found in native grasslands west of Melbourne, the lizard’s numbers slumped due to habitat loss and predators like foxes and feral cats, leading the species to be listed as critically endangered under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

“This is an amazing discovery and offers an opportunity for us to recover a species once thought lost to our state and the world!” says Victorian environment minister Ingrid Stitt.

“With the help of our partners we will continue to fight the extinction of this critically endangered species – ensuring future generations can see and learn about this incredibly unique lizard.”

Location kept secret

The exact location of the rediscovery is being kept under wraps to keep the dragons and their home safe, with the federal and Victorian governments stepping in to ensure the species’ recovery.

A jointly-funded $188,000 trial will use specially-trained sniffer dogs in an attempt to locate more populations of the dragon.

Federal environment minister Tanya Plibersek says detection dogs are an effective and non-invasive way to find the “highly cryptic” and critically endangered lizard in the wild.

“To best support the recovery of the Victorian grassland earless dragon, we have to know where they are,” says Ms Plibersek. 

“I want to protect our precious creatures for our kids and grandkids. 

“It’s a reminder about why it’s so important to invest in habitat restoration and the eradication of feral species.”

Sniffer dogs will be used to locate more populations of the rare Victorian grassland earless dragon (Tympanocryptis pinguicolla). Image credit: Zoos Victoria

Insurance population

A conservation breeding program will also be established by Zoos Victoria to ensure the species is not lost again.

A breeding program for the similarly-endangered Canberra grassland earless dragon (Tympanocryptis lineata) already exists at Melbourne Zoo and will greatly help to inform the success of the latest efforts.

“The extraordinary rediscovery of this critically endangered and cryptic lizard inspires optimism for the recovery of this Victorian species, and Zoos Victoria is proud to be lending years of expertise honed through the breeding recovery program at Melbourne Zoo for Canberra dragons,” says Zoos Victoria CEO Dr Jenny Gray.

Related: A guide to Australia’s dragon species