A student who spent seven years collecting lizard excrement for a PhD thesis is suing his university after it was thrown away. Daniel Bennett is taking legal action against Leeds University following the blunder which led to 5st 7lb of excrement being incinerated. He had collected the samples from remote areas of the Philippines as part of an investigation into the rare Butaan lizard.
The animal – a close relative of the Komodo dragon – was assumed extinct for more than 100 years and little is known about it. Mr Bennett spent five years investigating their diet, population size and behaviour by sifting through excrement found on the jungle floor. He then won a scholarship at Leeds where he was paid to analyse more samples at the university’s faculty of biological sciences.
But two years into his PhD he returned from fieldwork to find his collection had been “accidentally” thrown away by technicians clearing space in a laboratory. “The Butaan is so reclusive that all attempts to study it using methods that have proved suitable for the Komodo dragon and other large lizards have ended in total failure,” he told Times Higher Education magazine.
“My team and I studied the animals by searching the forest floor for their distinctive faeces and using clues to estimate dietary patterns, population size and structure, and activity areas. By the beginning of the third year of my PhD, I knew more about lizard faeces than I had ever thought possible. “Returning to Leeds from fieldwork, I was surprised to find my desk space occupied by another student and to see that photographs of my daughter, my girlfriend and my favourite lizards had been removed from the wall.
“My personal effects had been carefully stowed in boxes, but there was no sign of my 35kg bag of lizard ****.”