Giant Lizards, and history, thrive at El Hierro eco museum

At just 277 square metres, El Hierro is the smallest of the seven Canary Islands, but it punches well above its weight in the fight to preserve its natural heritage. Declared as a World Biosphere site by UNESCO in 2000, the most south easterly island has a project to preserve a native village and breed a species of giant lizard, thought to be extinct, and they have made it into an unlikely tourist attraction.

The Guinea museum lies at the bottom of El Golfo, a giant natural amphitheatre, formed 50,000 years ago when a volcanic eruption sent 300 cubic kames of land sliding into the sea. The tsunami it caused would have impacted around the world and has fuelled a scientific debate over a possible repeat from the neighbouring island of La Palma.

Eco Mueum

Later Bimbaches, the ancient island natives, built a settlement here, above and below ground, and it has been preserved to show how they lived, complete with rudimentary tools for cooking and working. The small stone and rough thatch settlements above land cover long volcanic tubes below, called Jualclos, where many of the Bimbache lived before taking to the surface. This is the base of the museum, which is about a ten minute drive from the town of Frontera.

The giant lizards (galliota simonyi) were a much later arrival, they are one of the five most endangered species in the world and were thought to be extinct in the Canary Islands until a shepherd discovered one in 1974. They were then carefully and slowly re-introduced into a breeding centre. The lizards live for up to 30 years and grow to 70 cms long, and have distinctive yellow spots.

Storms and new life

Nature had another surprise in store when heavy storms hit the island in 2007 and a landslide from the mountain above, damaged the museum and the breeding centre killing half of the 1,700 lizards that had been released to live on the mountain slopes. More dedication since then has seen several new batches of eggs laid and young lizards hatched to start building a new colony.

The museum and breeding centre are now a popular stop for school parties and holiday visitors, who can have a guided tour of the village and learn more about the trusts work. It’s just one of many projects proudly developed by the El Hierro government and more information can be found at www.el-meridiano.com

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