October 16, 2018 / 4:25 PM / a month ago

'Holy Grail' of lizard species born in Prague Zoo

An earless monitor lizard eats an earthworm inside its enclosure in Prague Zoo, Czech Republic October 16, 2018. REUTERS/David W Cerny

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Prague Zoo showcased five newly-born earless monitor lizards on Tuesday as part of a European breeding program aimed at boosting numbers of the nocturnal reptiles rarely observed in the wild.

Called “the Holy Grail of herpetologists” among the global community of reptile aficionados because so little is known about them, the ultra-rare lizards are native to the island of Borneo and concentrate in lowland rainforests near rivers.

They are seldom seen as they are active only at night.

Their unusual appearance, making them a target for the illegal wildlife trade, and sensitivity to a stable temperature of 26-28 degrees Celsius (79-82°F) underline the importance of captive breeding programs, zoo officials said.

“It is quite obvious that it is a species tied to streams in tropical forests and therefore it is very much endangered by the destruction of tropical forests in Borneo,” said Petr Velensky, a reptile curator at the Prague ZOO.

The zoo, known for its breeding of other rare animals, received a group of seven lizards in 2016 from an owner in Japan who two years earlier had bred the reptiles in captivity for the first time.

The lizards, typically about 20 centimetres (7.87 inches) long, are not on exhibit and zoo officials say several more eggs could hatch in the coming days.

Reporting by Jiri Skacel; Writing by Michael Kahn; Editing by Peter Graff

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