One of the most remarkable lizards in the world was discovered three decades ago on and around waterfalls in northern Haiti. With it's remarkably long, spider-like limbs and tendency to scramble over slick rocks and underwater when sighted the Haitian Cascade Anole (Anolis eugenegrahami) is unlike other lizards in the world. It's been reported only once since the 1980s (by a Dominican naturalist who visited Haiti around four years ago). The man who made the most recent observations reported that the species' only known habitat was heavily degraded, with extensive human activity and none of the impressive native trees that were reportedly present when the species was first discovered. A week ago, I came to Haiti on a trip led by my colleague Luke Mahler from the Museum of Comparative Zoology with the goal of reporting on the natural history and conservation status of this species, as well as obtaining fresh tissue samples for phylogenetic and population genetic analyses.
After two days of searching, we located a few streams near the type locality that seemed appropriate (albeit only marginally given the lack of large trees and rapidly flowing water). Then, while wandering up a small trickle that was being actively used by dozens of locals for bathing and the washing of clothes we spotted a striking black lizard on a rock face. Success! It was an adult male cascade anole! We quickly found a few more animals in the same vicinity. While capturing the first specimen, a gaggle of more than 30 local Haitians accumulated. By the time I caught it, there was literally a man playing a guitar immediately behind me, making the scene a bit surreal (see photo). Although we were initially overjoyed, the discovery was bittersweet. We couldn't find any more animals in the region, or even any more habitat that seemed remotely suitable. The exposed rock of the other streams in the region was 43C in the sun, hardly suitable for a black lizard whose only known locality was heavily shaded. Fearing we might cause the extinction of this remarkable animal, we released the only animals we caught.
The next day, we decided we needed to seek out more habitat and followed a tip from a local that we could find a series of waterfalls not far from the city of Plaisance if we walked a 6km trail. What we found after an hour and half of hiking was the most remarkable scene I've ever encountered during my career as a field biologist. As soon as we spotted the waterfalls I rose my binoculars to my eyes and began scanning the rock faces. Within seconds I'd spotted a large adult male cascade anole immediately adjacent to whitewater rushing over rocks. Moving further, we found that the rocks in this area were crawling with cascade anoles. We saw more than a dozen in less than an hour. After obtaining ecological data, video and tissue samples, we made our most remarkable observations when we watched the animals behavior underwater (more on that later!). Lizard lovers rejoice - the Haitian cascade anole lives on! Now the work must begin to preserve the scant habitat that remains.
Image legend: (1) an adult male cascade anole displaying! (photo by Mahler), (2) close-up of cascade anole, (3) cascad anole paradise, (4) attempting to noose a specimen from the waterfall locality (photo by Mahler), (5) first locality at which we found the cascade anole (note the people bathing and washing clothes and the pig in the foreground), (6) the scene behind me after catching the first animal.