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Grim reason three new species added to Aussie extinction threat list

Three species of grassland earless dragon have been added, and a fourth has been uplisted.

Three Australian lizards have been added to Australia’s list of species facing extinction, and a fourth has been uplisted.

While that may sound grim the news just gets worse from here. Two of the species are already believed by some scientists to be extinct.

Getting protections for endangered species can be slow, and the listings now reflect our understanding that what was believed to be one species of grassland earless dragon is actually four.

Left - grasslands used by the dragons. Right - land clearing for housing.
Grasslands are required for the species to thrive (left), but their habitat is being carved up by housing developments. Source: Ryan Colley/Getty (File)

The new species facing extinction:

The Department of Environment confirmed the animals were added to Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act threatened species list on June 1 following a taxonomic review.

  • Canberra grassland earless dragon (added as critically endangered)

  • Bathurst grassland earless dragon (added as critically endangered)

  • Victorian grassland earless dragon (uplisted to critically endangered)

  • Monaro grassland earless dragon (added as endangered)

An aerial shot showing rows of grassland earless dragons.
All four species of grassland earless dragon are threatened with extinction. Source: George Madani

Can Australia protect the remaining lizards?

Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) campaigner Peta Bulling explained that the Victorian grassland earless dragon hasn’t been seen since 1969, and the Bathurst grassland earless dragon hasn’t been recorded since the mid-1990s.

“It gets even worse, because we know that there are only two or three populations of Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon left (in the territory),” she said. “And there’s currently a proposal to have one of the sites destroyed for the airport road.”

A Monaro grassland earless dragon sitting on a rock.
The Monaro grassland earless dragon is now listed as endangered. Source: George Madani

Ms Bulling explained the dragon is so small it won’t be able to cross the airport road. “There’s no way for them to have a viable genetic population if it’s built,” she said. “They’ll essentially wipe them out.”

What are the threats the lizards now face?

George Madani, from the Grassland Earless Dragon Alliance described the animals as “true Goldilocks species” because they need their habitat to be “just right”.

  • Too little vegetation means they lose protection.

  • Too much means finding prey becomes difficult.

What the four species require is a mosaic of short to moderate grass tussocks as well as areas that support basking in the sun.

Mr Madani warns the four species face threats from fire, invasive weeds and overgrazing, as well as habitat fragmentation from housing developments. “These fragmented habitats are making it challenging for the species to maintain gene flow which is reducing their genetic diversity and increasing the risk of extinction,” he said.

A Canberra grassland earless dragon on the ground.
The Canberra grassland earless dragon could have one of its last remaining territories pulverised by a road. Source: John Wombey/CSIRO

Australia's endangered species list continues to increase

Australia has the worst record of mammalian extinction in the world and it has pushed a whopping 23 animal species from their home ranges since the 1960s, wiping some out completely.

Even iconic species like koala are listed as endangered. In 2022 an Australian frog was declared extinct, and there are warnings that the farmed salmon industry could wipe out a skate species endemic to Tasmania.

There are also concerns the Snowy Hydro green energy development could destroy the last remnants of a fish species, and last June it was revealed a distinct population of tiger sharks was destroyed before its existence was known.

Noting that up to 99.5 per cent of Australia’s native temperate grasslands that the grassland earless dragons need to survive have already been destroyed, ACF nature campaigner Darcie Carruthers has urged the Commonwealth to strengthen Australia’s environment protection laws.

She noted environment minister Tanya Plibersek has a declared aim of no new extinctions under her watch.

“Australia has a terrible record when it comes to protecting our unique species. In fact, our National Threatened Species List has ballooned to now include more than 2,000 plants, animals and ecological communities that are threatened with extinction,” Ms Carruthers said.

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