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Norman scientist works to save exotic lizard

Cameron Siler, a curator at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, is researching the sailfin dragon, also known as the sailfin lizard, in its natural habitat in the Philippines in an effort to help protect the vulnerable species from being sold on the black market.
By Jane Glenn Cannon, Staff Writer Modified: July 5, 2014 at 10:00 am •  Published: July 5, 2014
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photo - The brightly colored sailfin dragon that has been declared a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation and Nature is highly prized on the black market.  Photo provided
The brightly colored sailfin dragon that has been declared a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation and Nature is highly prized on the black market. Photo provided

A curator from the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History is in the Philippines this month to learn more about the sailfin dragon — a rare, elusive lizard that is one of the hottest commodities in illegal pet trading.

Cameron Siler and a group of fellow researchers hope their findings will lead to more protection for this vulnerable species, which is often hunted, poached and sold on the black market.

The sailfin dragon, also called the sailfin lizard, is highly prized for its vivid neon green, blue and violet coloring, its prehistoric dragonlike appearance and its aquatic skill. With their flattened toes, the lizards can give the appearance of walking on water.

This is not Siler’s first trip to the Philipines to study the sailfin dragon. Roughly 10 years ago, Siler, a herpetology expert, joined an existing research team. Over the next few years, the team conducted 40,000 to 50,000 biological surveys across 7,100 islands in the Philippines, collecting genetic samples to develop a DNA database and family tree for the sailfin.

This research is crucial for any species that has been declared vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation and Nature, Siler said.

Siler and his fellow researchers had hoped to discover a protected environment for the sailfin dragon. Instead, he said, they stumbled on a far more terrifying reality. Less than 10 percent of the sailfins’ suitable habitat in the Philippines is currently being protected.

Even worse, he said, every specimen surveyed at one of the major Filipino pet markets came from one peninsula in northeastern Philippines, where only 0.8 percent of the land currently is protected from development.

The vulnerable species could eventually be endangered if nothing is done, Siler said.

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The more herpetologists understand about this rare species, the more local governments can implement effective conservation regulations.”

Cameron Siler,

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