Grismer organized this summer’s multi-nation animal-sleuthing trip and departed for Cambodia’s jungles determined to lead the group despite suffering an excruciating back fracture during a weight-lifting exercise a few weeks prior to the journey.
His sacrifices were rewarded and his push for jungle preservation bolstered. The trek produced 58 frog, toad, lizard and snake species and data that indicated an extended range for an amazing frog with green blood and turquoise bones as well as for a legless, blind lizard species. “This adds a huge body of data to the conservation efforts in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary,” Grismer said. “This will help the Ministry of the Environment generate funds to support efforts to keep out the loggers. It adds to the reasoning of why the area needs to be protected.”
Grismer will return to Cambodia in March to collect the specimens from the Natural History Museum at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. He and his students will analyze the specimens at La Sierra and publish their findings in the Cambodian Journal of Natural History. During that trip he plans to explore islands off the southern coast of Cambodia, a region formerly utilized by the Khmer Rouge and so remote no scientists have been there, Grismer said. It took three years to acquire the government’s permission to enter the area, he said.
Why save the lizard?
Grismer’s hazardous field research supports his calling and cause, his reason for enduring the danger, dirt, fatigue and pain involved in discovering new creatures and new behavioral patterns; he uses the species documentation to help save pristine portions of Planet Earth from ever-encroaching development, and to educate the public on the importance of preserving the chain of life.
“The issue is, if we knowingly let some little lizard go extinct, we’re sending an unmistakable message to governments and lay people that letting some species go extinct is acceptable,” he said. If certain key species are allowed to die out, it could disrupt major ecosystems and in so doing, destroy communities, said Grismer. “The general public has real concerns about extinction and unfortunately some scientists are giving only party-line answers.”
Grismer lays out the argument in the March 2011 edition of the Malaysian Naturalist in an article titled “Reptiles Go Extinct …Does it Affect Us?” Grismer writes, “Species, any species (and some more than others), are worth protecting at least on principle alone. …If we allow the extinction of selected species then where do we draw the line? Who decides which species stay and which are expendable? What criteria are used to decide this?”
Conservation in Southeast Asia is still emerging and is reliant on scientific data for its advancement. “We’re at the front line right now discovering new species and earmarking new locations that will need to be afforded protection soon,” said Quah. “I cannot stress enough the importance of the data that Dr. Grismer and his other colleagues are collecting in the field. We’re only beginning to find out what is out there and this is all invaluable data that will help us build baseline data for future work for the conservation of these species.”