After 500 years, 'extinct' giant lizard shows its face

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The giant lizard
Galliota gomerana should be pretty hard to miss. At a half-metre long, it is clumsy and moves slowly, making it easy prey for even domestic cats.

The giant lizard Galliota gomerana should be pretty hard to miss. At a half-metre long, it is clumsy and moves slowly, making it easy prey for even domestic cats.

But not for scientists. Until this week, when six were discovered in the Canary Islands, the lizard was widely considered to have been extinct for about 500 years. Known for centuries only by its fossilised remains, it has in fact been hiding in the crannies of cliffs on the island of La Gomera, one of the seven Canary Islands, off the Moroccan coast.

On Saturday, the Government revealed that biologists from La Laguna University in Tenerife had found six of the lizards in the Gran Rey valley. Juan Carlos Rando, a member of the university team, confirmed: "According to international standards, the giant lizard of La Gomera is an extinct species in nature."

The six lizards are at the university for now, but Dr Rando hopes to return them to La Gomera in a protected habitat, to reproduce under supervision. They were found within an area of less than a hectare, and he doubts if any more survive in the wild. The lizards were believed to have been killed off by predators introduced by man, particularly the domestic cat.

The scientists' quest for the lizards was prompted by discoveries on neighbouring islands. Another long-lost species was found on El Hierro in 1974 - more than 300 now flourish there - and in 1997 anothervariant was found in Tenerife. The lizards are thought to have come from Africa 15 million years ago.

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