Guatemalan Beaded Lizards Conservation Project - Project Heloderma

Where: Motagua Valley, Guatemala


Find out more about Guatemalan beaded lizards at Zoo Atlanta

Zoo Atlanta partners with the Foundation for the Endangered Species of Guatemala on Project Heloderma, an effort to preserve Guatemalan beaded lizards. Project Heloderma works to purchase and protect lizard habitat, combat illegal trade, and educate local people on the value of one of their national treasures.

Education programs for Guatemalan villagers help to topple misperceptions about this species, which has long been viewed with superstition and irrational fear. Project Heloderma also helps local communities thrive by providing clothing, school supplies and school computers in an effort to eliminate the necessity of killing and selling lizards.

Zoo Atlanta and the Foundation for the Endangered Species of Guatemala

Guatemalan beaded lizards are one of the planet’s rarest species, with fewer than 200 believed to remain in the wild. Today, most of their tiny habitat has been converted for farming, charcoal production and a renewed interest in mining.

Humans persecute the lizards because of long-held myths about their malevolence and magical powers, even though not one human death has ever been recorded as a result of a Guatemalan beaded lizard bite. The species is also threatened by the illegal pet trade. Beaded lizards fetch a high price on the black market, making their capture attractive to local poachers living in very poor communities.

Beaded lizard venom may also have positive implications for human health. These animals and their relatives the Gila monsters eat very infrequently, yet their blood sugar levels remain remarkably stable. This is accomplished with a hormone found only in these animals. The popular life-saving drug Byetta®, used to help diabetics control blood sugar, was developed by Eli Lilly Corporation based on the unique hormone from beaded lizards.