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Department of Arts and Culture: Make Sungazers South Africa's national lizard

Department of Arts and Culture: Make Sungazers South Africa's national lizard


Why this is important

Species Symbol for the Department of Arts and Culture

The Sungazer Smaug giganteus, a uniquely lovely lizard reminiscent of the dragons of ancient mythology, may become extinct unless trade, habitat destruction and other threats to this charismatic creature, are closely controlled. We believe that recognizing Sungazers as South Africa’s National Lizard will significantly afford these iconic creatures protection against annihilation.

The name Sungazer comes from the species’ habit of sitting at its burrow entrance looking up at the sun with its front legs rigid for hours on end. The Sungazer is also known as the Giant Girdled Lizard or Ouvolk. It is endemic (don’t occur anywhere else in the world) to the Highveld grasslands of the northern eastern Free State and south western Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa. Sungazers only reproduce every other year, and only produce one or two offspring, giving birth to live young rather than laying eggs. They also show some level of parenting, which, while expected when so few young are produced, is rare in reptiles. The species is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and is listed on CITES Appendix II.

Crowning the Sungazer as South Africa’s National Lizard
Recently, as a result of genetic work, Sungazers were assigned a new genus. The new genus, Smaug, is based on the dragon Smaug from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. It is believed that Tolkien, who was born in the Free State, modelled his terrifying Smaug on these magnificent lizards. Sungazers are easy to see and appreciate in the wild and are really the gentle giants of South Africa’s lizard species. They occur nowhere else in the world and are sufficiently unusual and unique enough to represent the lizard group admirably. Having them recognized as the National Lizard will raise awareness about their plight and the threats they face; make them an even greater point of pride for landowners who have Sungazer colonies on their property; and help us to protect their dwindling numbers and preserve this amazing species for future generations. Formal recognition of Sungazers as South Africa’s national lizard is reliant on the Department of Arts and Culture and we at the Endangered Wildlife Trust would like to encourage the processing of the existing application towards this end.

Posted June 5, 2014
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