Words by Rona Van De Merwe and Steve Pike.
The rare Orange Strandveld Lizard. Image: Chad Keates.
In ironic good news for a threatened desert reptile, the striking Orange Sandveld Lizard is likely to be upgraded to the Red List.
The rare lizard, Nucras aurantiaca, was scientifically identified (described) in 2019 from a single specimen collected almost two decades ago on a farm near Lambert’s Bay. Recently, a team of scientists from the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and partners embarked on an expedition up the West Coast to find the brightly coloured lizard, which is one of ten reptile species currently listed as Data Deficient in South Africa.
“The survey team was excited to find and confirm the identity of the lizard and will submit the data collected towards the reassessment of the species’ conservation status. Due to its apparent scarcity and the substantial habitat transformation of the only location it is known to occur, it will likely be uplisted to one of the Red List threat categories,” a spokesperson for EWT said.
A status upgrade will add the Orange Sandveld Lizard (also known as Lambert’s Bay Sandveld Lizard) to the Red category of 44 reptiles listed as species of conservation concern (Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened) in South Africa.
The news could not come at a better, or worse, time. Environmental Authorisation (EA) was recently granted for a phosphate prospecting permit over a massive area of 92,000 hectares that includes the Orange Sandveld Lizard’s habitat. It is hoped among the scientific community that increased species knowledge and information will prevent such approvals in the future.
“If the lizard is uplisted, it will qualify for increased legal protection, and be included in the next updates of the Environmental Screening Tool and the EWT’s Threatened Species No-Go Mapping tool, which identifies areas of significant biodiversity impact, especially for localised species of conservation concern.
“The species and its conservation status will then have to be accounted for during future EIA’s in the region, ultimately helping to protect the West Coast and its wildlife from further unregulated and harmful developments,” the Endangered Wildlife Trust said.
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process requires by law that for a development to be granted an EA, the applicant must run the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment’s (DFFE) Environmental Screening Tool on the proposed area.
Red flags are triggered if the area is home to species of conservation concern. Unfortunately, many species on the West Coast are under-sampled, with insufficient information to ascertain their conservation status (classified Data Deficient on the Screening Tool) or there may be species that have not been described yet.
Scientists constantly try to fill these gaps in our knowledge and update and improve the Screening Tool so that No-Go Zones for development and mining can be determined and species can receive the protection that they deserve.
PTWC is grateful for the work done by the EWT, their partners and various other institutions and scientists working to protect these species.
Visit the EWT website here: https://ewt.org.za/