More than $2 million has been allocated to saving one of Australia's most threatened animals which scientists think now only survives in Canberra and Queanbeyan.
The grassland earless dragon once thrived widely in Victoria and New South Wales but the latest research puts its last enclave in the Jerrabomberra Valley, straddling the NSW and ACT border.
The ACT government has decided to spend $2,164,000 protecting the precious grassland earless dragon ecosystem.
Part of the money will be used to create what ACT ecologist Brett Howland called a "Noah's Ark-type captive colony to ensure the species survives".
A statement said: "This will also benefit the other native species that share important grassland habitats."
The funds are part of a $7.8 million package of measures to protect different parts of the natural world in the ACT.
Apart from the money for the grassland earless dragon, other projects get:
- $2,347,000 to support volunteers who help with environmental projects, including monitoring the wildlife in rivers;
- $1,100,000 for improving Lake Tuggeranong, "including a major pollutant trap that will help clean inflows"; and
- $1,033,000 for more rangers to respond to calls from the public, including for trapped and injured animals.
The ACT's environment minister, Mick Gentleman, said: "The funding will help to conserve ACT's natural environment and native animals, build community engagement, provide more rangers on the ground and improve Lake Tuggeranong."
He said the money was even more important in the wake of the damage caused by the bushfires.
The money for the grassland earless dragon would be used to create a protected colony, with the hope of rebuilding the population as more can be released into the wild, Mr Howland said.
He said the aim was to increase numbers but also to understand why the species has declined.
It does seem likely to have been the result of human activity, the federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment says.
It cites the probable main factors as the "loss and fragmentation of habitat due to urban, industrial or agricultural development".
Drought and climate change haven't helped the animal, either.
Its population collapsed in the Canberra region after the millennium drought 20 years ago.
Nor does the lizard like the spreading thick invasive species of weeds like African lovegrass, which it finds difficult to get through.
Mr Howland thinks one cause of the decline in the population might be the reduction in grasslands by over-grazing, so making them more vulnerable to predators and reducing their supply of insects to eat.
"The species depends on a functioning, connected ecosystem", he said.
"And it seems like some of those connections are broken.
"This money will help us understand where these breaks are and help us fix them."
He said the money would also aid understanding of other unique grassland species.
"These actions will also help a range of unique grassland species," Mr Howland said.
Last year, Professor Stephen Sarre, an ecologist at the University of Canberra, flagged the dire situation.
He thought it could become "the first documented extinction of a reptile on the Australian mainland since European colonisation".
GRASSLAND EARLESS DRAGON - WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- Its scientific name is Tympanocryptis lineata.
- Only about 500 left in the wild.
- Once common in Victoria and New South Wales.
- Only found now in the Jerrabomberra Valley.
- Its ideal grasslands have declined dramatically.