Spectacular discovery has lizard lovers leaping

It may not be a velociraptor from "Jurrasic Park," but a golden-spotted monitor lizard found in the Philippines is a startling find for scientists.

Called Varanus bitatawa after the local native tribe that eats the 61/2-foot monster, it has cousins in the Philippines but is a new species to science.

You'd think a 2-yard-long fruit-eating tree-climber with golden spots would be as hard to miss as a peacock in a chicken yard.

But this fellow is secretive, hides high in the trees of northern Luzon's remote Sierra Madre mountains and -- unlike chickens -- never crosses a road to get to the other side.

Almost the first reaction to the announcement was the suggestion that the newly discovered lizard is a "flagship species" for protecting the environment in general and the Philippines in particular.

And Philippine authorities are all for it.

"The discovery of such a large, charismatic and strikingly distinct new species of vertebrate in the unexplored forests of the northern Philippines accentuates the degree to which the diversity of this global conservation hot spot is still poorly known," said Mundita Lim, chief of the country's Department of Environment and Natural Resources Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau.

Here at home in the Tri-Cities, at least one humorist has suggested we could use a discovery of our own.

Perhaps Sasquatch indeed lurks in the mountains around Walla Walla. Like the newly discovered forest monitor lizard of the Philippines, Sasquatch is said to be secretive and to avoid crossing roads, at least while photographers are around.

It would be nice to have a new species around here.

We've already lost one: The once-common Hanford pygmy rabbit has vanished from the wild, biologists believe.

An attempt to restart a hybrid variety of the little critters fell to the jaws of coyotes and other predators who found the one-pound adults delicious.

Pygmy rabbits would survive an encounter with the newly discovered giant lizard of the Philippines, though.

The lizards eat only fruit. And, probably by accident, the occasional snail.

On balance, given the choice of a local population of giant monitor lizards, Sasquatch or pygmy rabbits, we'd take back the rabbits.