Protecting Guatemalan beaded lizards: Conservation Heloderma
Where: Guatemala

Find out more about Guatemalan beaded lizards at Zoo Atlanta

Zoo Atlanta partners with the Foundation for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Guatemala (Fundación para las especies amenazadas de Guatemala – FUNDESGUA) to protect the Guatemalan beaded lizard, a critically endangered reptile found only in the Motagua Valley in eastern Guatemala.
Fewer than 300 Guatemalan beaded lizards are believed to remain in the wild. The lizards are a flagship species in their ecosystem, which is rich in biodiversity, but face serious threats as a result of poverty-driven subsistence agriculture; their entire remaining habitat is about the size of a large Texas cattle ranch. 
The species, which is a rare example of a venomous lizard, also faces unnecessary persecution by humans, and for millennia has been shrouded in negative myths. In reality, not one human death has ever been recorded as a result of a Guatemalan beaded lizard bite. 
The program uses a multi-pronged approach to conservation, with projects for both animals and people. Initiatives include but are not limited to: 
  • Conservation education, including educational animal encounters; school programs; tree-planting; field surveys and animal care; 
  • Applied research to determine the species’ range and habitat utilization;
  • Land preservation and restoration and purchase of new lizard habitat from private landowners;
  • Community programs for local people, including a food-incentive program, construction of new homes for villagers, scholarship programs and English lessons to help villagers obtain new job opportunities. 
Zoo Atlanta and the Foundation for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Guatemala; Brad Lock, DVM, the Zoo’s Curator of Herpetology, is a leading partner in the project. 

Guatemala’s endemic reptile species are among the most endangered and unprotected wildlife on the planet, and many face a critical risk of extinction. 

The Guatemalan beaded lizard, which already exists in an extremely limited habitat, particularly needs public education to overturn its undeserved reputation as a malevolent, and even supernatural, creature.  
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.