Legless in the long grass
As Europeans took their first tentative steps upon these limestone plains, what a remarkable sight the open grasslands must have been. Rich soil. Fresh mountain water. The banks of the mighty Molonglo River a perfect place to pursue agricultural pursuits.
The year was 1823. Fast forward nearly 200 hundred years. A dramatically altered vista lies before us today. The landscape forever transformed. Around Australia, 95% of natural grasslands have vanished.
In the ACT, the once abundant grassy plains have been largely replaced with the suburbs we call home. .
Yet, seeking sanctuary within this metropolis, critters from the past still call the bush capital home. As the name would suggest the magnificent Striped Legless Lizard has no legs. Yet it’s no snake. Evolution has spoken. Free of appendages, it moves swiftly through the grass. When threatened, it can drop its tail, similar to skinks. It can squeak, akin to its other relative, the gecko.
These lizards are truly unique. They herald a tangible ecological link to the open grassy plains of yesteryear. They live in pockets of resilience that are robust, unique to our region. Many are protected reserves.
But these pockets are impacted by over grazing, challenged by the booming kangaroo population. Science tells us that by culling kangaroos we can lend a helping hand to this threatened critter. The grass grows, habitat returns, biodiversity abounds.
Without native grass cover Striped Legless Lizards are vulnerable. Predators lurk. Reluctant to step out onto exposed terrain, these little lizards are unwilling to colonise new turf.
Thanks to a band of dedicated ecologists the future is perhaps brighter. The dawn of a new era is breaking over Kama Nature Reserve. A new home for an ancient grasslands species. Rolling the dice of life, a population was rescued. Translocated from the path of residential development to an oasis of native grassy woodlands.
While still early days, there are some promising results. It would appear that our scientific helping hand may pay dividends.
Akin to fingerprints, Striped Legless Lizards have individually unique head scales. No two patterns are alike. So, it was with a real sense of exhilaration, a palpable excitement, that two years after the relocation to Kama, a perfect match was made. That the critter survived and thrived suggests we may well be witnessing the beginning of the establishment of a new population.
While conserving these unique species in-situ will always represent best practice, our ecological endeavors to relocate an endangered species to a new, safe home may prove to be the difference in future years.
Brett McNamara is with ACT Parks & Conservation Service.
Article also appeared on 22 January 2019 in The Chronicle