Zoo wide awake in battle to save 'sleepy' crocodile lizards

Picture of endangered lizard

Sleepy - a Chinese crocodile lizard - Credit: Paignton Zoo

Paignton Zoo is doing its best to save an endangered species of lizards - renowned for sleeping. 

At the end of last year, staff at the zoo celebrated the successful birth of two litters of Chinese crocodile lizards. 

Scientists believe that there may be less than 1,000 left in the wild in China, with habitat loss, climate change and over collection posing a serious threat to their survival. 

As well as being one of the zoo’s most unique-looking reptile residents, they are also one of the most unusual in terms of behaviour.  

They are known as the ‘lizard of great sleepiness’ due to their habit of lying motionless on branches overhanging water and hibernating in cool weather. Unfortunately, this has also led to them to being captured for use in traditional medicine as a supposed cure for insomnia! 

The lizards are also semi aquatic and spend a lot of time in the water. They are excellent swimmers and can hold their breath underwater for long periods. 

Picture of lizard

The lizards are endangered - Credit: Paignton Zoo

Their unusual appearance has also made them targets for the illegal pet trade, and this, alongside pollution and habitat loss is having a dramatic effect on wild populations. Climate change is another growing threat. 

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The lizards do not just come from China - a small population also live in neighbouring Vietnam. These lizards are under even greater pressure, with only around 100 animals thought to survive. Zoo owners the Wild Planet Trust has been working for several years with conservation organisations in Vietnam to help secure the future of some of the region's incredible wildlife. 

Steve Nash, Curator of Birds, Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates: “We’ve been working with crocodile lizards here since 2017, although 2020 was our most successful in terms of breeding. Female crocodile lizards give birth to live young and can have anywhere between two and 12 babies at a time. Our first litter, born in the spring, contained three babies, with another five appearing in October.  

“Guests will be able to see some of our new arrivals when Tropical Trail, the new name for Reptile Tropics, reopens later this year.”