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Keith Corbett, rare species conservation officer
It's a fascinating discovery
 real 28k

Tuesday, 21 March, 2000, 11:33 GMT
Scientists find 'extinct' giant lizards

By Sebastian Usher in Spain

Scientists in Spain have found a giant lizard that was previously thought to be extinct.

Six of these lizards, measuring up to half a metre, were discovered in a cliff on La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands off the Moroccan coast.

Giant lizards first arrived in the Canaries from Africa about 15 million years ago. But this particular specimen was thought to have died out 500 years ago.

Hideaways

Its only trace - a few fossilised remains - are scattered across the island's cliffs.

Spanish biologists started searching for the lizard - called Galliota gomerona - last summer in what seemed its likeliest hideaways on La Gomera.

They were spurred on by the discovery of two other species of giant lizard in recent years in two of the other Canary Islands.

But their success on La Gomera was still unexpected and, according to the head of the team, Juan Carlos Rando, unlikely to be repeated.

Delicacy

Mr Rando said the lizards were all found close to each other and there was little chance of finding any more.

The lizards are cumbersome and slow and easy prey for predators, with the domestic cat being their greatest enemy.

The scientists say cats see the lizards as a real delicacy, prying them out of their cliff-top shelters like oysters from a shell.

So, for the moment, the six newly-discovered specimens are being kept in captivity.

But the scientists who found them hope to return them to La Gomera one day, once a protected area has been set up and the voracious cats can be kept at bay.

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