FEATURES: Rare ‘Flying lizard’ sighted in Nigeria

A rare species of lizard, known as Neon blue-tailed tree lizard, has been spotted in a forest in Eket, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, about 49 years after it was first reported to have been seen in Nigeria.

Known by its scientific name, Holaspis guentheri, the lizard is recorded in Global Biodiversity Information Facility to have first been sighted in Nigeria, at Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, in March, 1966 by an English conservationist, H. B. Wesselman.

It is popularly called flying lizard because of the way it glides from one tree trunk to another, to feed on insects or escape from predators.

Very colourful in nature, the flying lizard looks like the five-line skink.

A Senior Lecturer, Wildlife Resources Management, University of Uyo, Dr. Edem A. Eniang, sighted the lizard in Akai Edoho forest, Eket, where he had accompanied a fellow Uniuyo lecturer, Prof. Kingsley Akpabio, for a UNDP-sponsored biodiversity research project.

“As soon as I saw it I realised that I have never seen this kind of lizard before in my life. In fact, I shouted on a female student in our team to bring me a better camera because she was helping to hold my camera bag. But because of the way I screamed with excitement she ran in the opposite direction, probably thinking I saw a snake,” Dr. Eniang told PREMIUM TIMES.

Mr. Eniang succeeded in capturing images of the lizard from a distance of about 10 metres from the ground, using a small under-water camera which he said wasn’t good enough for such photography.

But then, for several months he had difficulty identifying what species of lizard it was until he emailed its pictures to a world renowned herpetologist at the Institute of Vertebrate Zoology, University of Rome, Italy, Prof Luca Luiselli, who identified it as ‘flying lizard’.

Another rare species of lizard sighted and photographed by Mr. Eniang at about the same time he spotted the flying lizard is yet to be identified.

“It’s a great sighting,” Prof. Luiselli told Dr. Eniang in a response to his email.

Prof. Akpabio, a lecturer at Uniuyo’s Department of Botany and also the team-lead for the UNDP Environment Project, corroborated Dr. Eniang’s claims on the sighting of the flying lizard in Akai Edoho forest, adding that the sighting of the rare lizard had heightened his concern over the continuous destruction of forests by people in the local communities.

Mr. Eniang said both him and Prof. Akpabio had since revisited the forest thrice, but not really to look out for the flying lizard.

“We can’t determine their population in that forest unless we do intensive search,” Mr. Eniang said.

He explained how significant the sighting of the lizard is to Nigeria and the global community.

“It shows that this lizard is still alive in Nigeria, and not extinct,” the lecturer said. “Also, it adds to the global spread because it is endemic to West Africa, and to some extent, East Africa. It is not even a global species.‎

“I can assure you, this lizard has great potentials to boost eco-tourism in Akwa Ibom State, and maybe a further impetus to encouraging the government and people of Akwa Ibom State to set up a protected area, maybe a national park, a biosphere reserve, a nature reserve or world heritage site.

“This is because we must know that Akwa Ibom falls within the continuous tropical rainforest zone that is classified as biodiversity hotspot for the world, from the gulf of Guinea all the way down to the Sanagha River in Cameroun.”

Dr. Eniang, from Itu Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, has spent 20 years in field biological research as an herpetologist.

The West African zebra gecko, otherwise known as Hemidactylus eniangii, is named in his honour for being the first person to collect the rare species of gecko nine years ago.


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