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'Extinct' Pinocchio Lizard Sighted in Northwest Ecuador [VIDEO]

Oct 07, 2013 01:10 PM EDT

After 50 years of believed extinction, the Pinocchio lizard has been confirmed living in the forests of northwest Ecuador.

First discovered in 1953, the lizard was only sighted on a handful of occasions during the next 15 years, according to Destination Ecuador. In 2005, a group of birdwatchers reported one crossing a road and just five years later an expedition led by Jonathan Losos, a herpetologist from Harvard, discovered the lizard.

The most recent search, conducted by ecotourism company Tropical Herping over the course of three years, found the lizard in northwest Ecuador in Mindo.

Named for a long protuberance growing out of its snout, the lizard is adept at camouflaging -- so adept that it remain hidden from human eyes for decades.

For this reason, the most recent team of researchers took to searching at night when the lizard turns a pale, whitish color.

"We wanted to find it because it is a fantastic and mysterious creature that has remained unknown for almost all human beings for decades," Tropical Herping co-founder Alejandro Arteaga said told Destination Ecuador. "Also, we needed pictures of the species for a book about the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Mindo region. It was the only lizard we were missing."

According to LiveScience, one of Arteaga's colleagues discovered a male Pinocchio lizard on a branch over a stream in January.

"After looking for so long ... It was very thrilling to find this strange lizard," Arteaga said.

The team held it for a night so they could photograph it the next morning before letting the animal go.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the Pinocchio lizard as endangered, having been found in just four locations and predominantly along a single stretch of road.

The IUCN cites logging, grazing and "other human pressures" as the likely decline to the species.

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