One of the rarest lizards  in the world has been brought to the UK from  its native home to allow a  team of Chester Zoo experts to work out how to  save it.

The numbers of Bermuda  skink (Plestiodon  longirostris) – or rock lizard  as it is also known – are  dwindling in Bermuda with  ecologists fearing a single  disaster – either human or  environmental – could wipe  out some of the already fragmented populations.

A team from Chester has  brought back 12 of the  skinks from Bermuda and  will now begin putting together a complete guide on  how to rear the rare  creatures in captivity.

The toolkit will allow conservation teams in Bermuda to use the skills  learned in Chester to breed  the skinks themselves with  the hope of eventually releasing them into the wild.

Dr Gerardo Garcia,  Chester Zoo’s curator of  lower vertebrates and invertebrates, said: “The  number of these wonderful  creatures in their native  Bermuda are dropping  drastically thanks, in no  small part, to habitat loss  and fragmentation of their  populations.

“The introduction of species such as cats and lizard-eating birds coupled  with the development of  Bermuda’s landscapes has  also done little to help their  numbers.

“It would just take one disaster for them to be lost  forever. So, using the skills  and expertise we have at the  zoo, we’re going to develop a  toolkit for raising the skinks  with the hope that one day  they could be released back  into the wild.

“There are just a few  skinks in captivity and all  are on Bermuda itself, so we  need to take action to protect them for the future.”

Dr Garcia and his team  will recreate the climate of  Bermuda back at the zoo  using temperature data  taken from the islands together with other elements  of the lizards’ Bermudian  surroundings, such as rock,  coral and forest substrates,  to create the optimal breeding conditions.

“This is one of the rarest lizards in the world and people may ask why we’re going to such lengths to save it,” said Dr Garcia, “but every species on the planet has an important role to play.”

“What we don’t want to do is leave it until it’s too late to discover what the role of that species is and that’s why we’re acting now to save the skinks.

The zoo’s veterinary experts will also be on hand to discover more about the skinks’ biology, carrying out ultrasounds in an effort to understand them better.

Microchipping techniques will also be used so, ultimately, conservationists will be able to track skinks in the wild to determine how long they live and how far they travel.

How long it will take to develop the toolkit will depend on the skinks themselves – the six pairs at the zoo are entering the breeding season – but it may be another year before they successfully breed and before the complete guide is ready.

The results will then be shared with Bermuda’s Department of Conservation Services and its support charity the Bermuda Zoological Society, the organisations collaborating with Chester on this project.

“We are very grateful to Chester Zoo and Dr Garcia for volunteering their expertise and assistance with this project,” said Mark Outerbridge, wildlife ecologist for Bermuda’s Department of Conservation Services.

“The skink is an iconic species for Bermuda and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be a part of this team.”