Sailfin Lizard Conservation In Its Native Range

The illegal pet trade is a force that is dramatically depleting wild populations of some species. One taxa of interest to smugglers are the sailfin lizards of Australasia. Sailfins (Hydrosaurus sp.) are large, dramatic reptiles that, unfortunately, have undergone a steep decline in population size in response to habitat degradation and illegal collection. Hydrosaurus sp. inhabit coastal regions and mangrove forests which urbanization has reduced and fragmented. The pet trade is now exploiting sailfins at such a rate that these animals may disappear from the wild.

A study published in 2014[1] looked at sailfin lizards being sold on the black market in Manila, Philippines. They tested the animals’ genetics to determine where they were collected from. The researches took genetic samples from all wild populations of sailfins in the Philippines and found six genetically distinct populations that are considered evolutionary significant units, meaning they are deserving of protection to insure genetic diversity within the species. After comparing the captive sailfins to the wild ones, it was clear all of the lizards collected came from one population – Bicol Peninsula.

This created great concern for the lizards in that population. If illegal traffickers continued to exploit the Bicol Peninsula, the population would soon be extinct in the wild and their divergent lineage would disappear. The researchers knew if they wanted to protect the species they would have to protect its habitat.

Hydrosaurus pustulatus habitat suitability, with black dots representing vouchered localities sampled for this study, estimated from the full (A) and reduced (B) habitat preference models. Federally protected areas shaded in green (C). The inset panel shows the Bicol Peninsula of Luzon in greater detail (above) with approximate human density projected and suggested priority regions for increased conservation efforts. Stars represent absence localities used in exploratory analyses of presence–absence datasets

A cursory search of the internet does not offer much follow up information on the sailfin’s conservation. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists Hydrosaurus species as vulnerable, and this genus is currently not listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) database. The Encyclopedia of Life says there are breeding programs at rehabilitation and zoo facilities in England and the Philippines in place until the threats against wild populations can be better understood and conservation plans implemented. Typically, when conserving a species protecting its habitat becomes the first priority. This comes with a myriad of political and social issues often causing the process to take years to complete – if it ever gets approved. Hopefully, with the evidence provided by the previously described study, the approval of more protected sailfin habitat will occur.

[1] Siler, C. D., Lira-Noriega, A., & Brown, R. M. (2014). Conservation genetics of Australasian sailfin lizards: Flagship species threatened by coastal development and insufficient protected area coverage. Biological Conservation,169, 100-108. Retrieved January 26, 2016.


Thank you for reading! This article was originally posted to The Wandering Herpetologist Blog. Please follow my twitter for updates on my writings.


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