Student loses love and lizard leftovers in Leeds

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A University has been forced to apologise to one of its graduate students after it accidentally threw away a bag of rare lizard excrement which had taken him five years to collect.

Daniel Bennett had been in the Philippines studying the rare butaan lizard, a close relative of the komodo dragon, as part of his PhD at Leeds University. Over half a decade he bagged and sent home 35kg of the reptile's faeces, which he thought was being held safely by his department.

However, he was horrified to learn that the precious collection of dung had been thrown out by the university during a routine lab clearout.

Mr Bennett, who was still able to complete his doctorate, wrote in The Times Higher Education: "To some people it might have been just a bag of lizard shit, but to me it represented seven years of painstaking work, searching the rainforest with a team of reformed poachers to find the faeces of one of the world's largest, rarest and most mysterious lizards.

"Whether it was the largest collection of lizard shit in the world is uncertain, but it certainly contained the only dietary sample from that little-known species ... Its loss left me reeling and altered the course of my life forever."

Collecting the dung was the simplest way for Mr Bennett to study the lizard's eating habits, since it was known to be extremely reclusive. The rare reptile was long thought extinct.

The student has rejected the university's offer of £500 in compensation for his lost work, and said he intends to "see them in court." To make matters worse, the day after he received their letter, his girlfriend of 10 years left him. Mr Bennett wrote: "People are rarely at their happiest when writing a thesis, but I needed a waterproof keyboard to finish mine."

Leeds University said: "We are unaware of any legal action. The loss of these samples was an unfortunate mistake. They were thrown away in error because they were in an unmarked bag.

"Lessons have been learned and protocols improved to ensure this cannot happen again. Mr Bennett is due to graduate with his PhD this year, subject to minor corrections to his thesis unrelated to the loss of the materials."