It is estimated that less than 200 Vietnamese crocodile lizards remain in the wild.
A beautiful lizard with a fire red head and a yellow and black belly has been confirmed a separate subspecies of lizard after more than a decade of study. The Vietnamese crocodile lizard (Shinisaurus crocodilurus vietnamensis), which can be found in northern Vietnam, is a subspecies of the Chinese crocodile lizard (Shinisaurus crocodilurus), found only in the Hunan, Guangxi and Guizhou Provinces of southern China.
The reptile was discovered by Mona van Schingen, Minh Duc Le, Hanh Thi Ngo, Cuong The Pham, Qyunh Quy Ha, Truong Quang Nguyen, and Thomas Ziegler back in 2003 in northern Vietnam. It was confirmed as a separate subspecies in 2016, but is now threatened by coal mining, habitat destruction and collection for the pet trade. It is estimated that less than 200 individuals remain in the wild.
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“This is terrifyingly low,” Prof. Dr. Ziegler told the World Wildlife Fund. “Fortunately, based on the long-term research of our German-Vietnamese team, we could generate data over the past few years that have helped to include the species for the first time on the IUCN Red List in 2014 (as Endangered) and that were the basis to elevate it to CITES Appendix I in 2016.”
Currently, Ziegler and his team are working on proposals to help protect the species, including the creation of a wildlife corridor as well as new reserves within its natural range. They are also working to support protected areas in Vietnam, including the Tay Yen Tu Reserve in the Bac Giang province of Vietnam. A breeding program is being developed in conjunction with the Melinh Station for Biodiversity of the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources in Hanoi, Vietnam as well as in Germany’s Cologne Zoo. A comic strip has also been developed with the assistance of artist Christian Niggemann that features Shini, the crocodile lizard, which helps school children understand the important roles that the lizards have in the environment as well as the need to protect them.
“We hope, with this combination of in situ and ex situ measures, we will have a chance to prevent this enigmatic and beautiful lizard from extinction,” Ziegler said.