Children Planting Trees for Alligator Lizards and Their Community

The Campbell’s alligator lizard is a critically endangered tree-dwelling lizard found only in one small part of Guatemala. Falsely believed to be venomous, until recently this lizard was killed on sight and the forest it lived in was reduced to a fragment. The OKC Zoo is helping to fund a forest restoration and conservation education project that has changed the community’s attitude about these lizards and increased their habitat.

Campbell’s alligator lizards live in mature oak trees growing at high elevation in Guatemala. The entire wild population is confined to a fragment of forest contained on eight privately owned farms. Trees in this area are routinely cut down for firewood. Thus, many of the mature oak trees were isolated from one another negatively affecting the lizards’ population dynamics, dispersal, and behavior. 

In 2013, the Foundation for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Guatemala initiated a forest restoration project to increase habitat for this lizard. In the first phase of the project, 13,000 oak seedlings were planted to establish a habitat corridor through four farms, providing vital connectivity and increased space for the lizards. Additionally, 8,000 pine seedlings were planted to establish a fast-growing, community managed forest. The pine forest will be used for harvesting firewood, and thus harvest of the oak trees will be reduced. 

The Zoo awarded a Conservation Action Round-up Engagement (CARE) grant to help fund the second phase of this project. In this phase, 10,000 oak seedlings will be planted to connect the remaining habitat fragments and 8,000 pine seedlings will be planted to create a second community managed forest. A key component of this project is training and engaging the local community in growing the seedlings and planting the trees. This includes creating mini-nurseries for the trees at local schools. The children learn about the alligator lizards and other species unique to Guatemala and the threats to their survival. The children also help grow the seedlings, dig them up, and replant them in the new forest areas. This project wonderfully illustrates that successful conservation action helps local people and the animals in need of protection.

You can help alligator lizards and many other species by saying “Yes” when asked to round up while making purchases at the Zoo. The money used to support the CARE grant program is raised through the Round Up for Conservation program. Every cent counts!

– Dr. Rebecca Snyder, zoological curator of science and conservation 

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