The international illegal wildlife trade (excluding timber and fisheries) is estimated to be worth at around USD23 billion per year, making it the fourth largest illegal global trade (after drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking) and covers a broad range of endangered species.
A key driver of our War on Wildlife, forests are being emptied and illegal wildlife markets are filled to bursting with birds, snakes, and amphibians.
One of many species being brought to the edge of extinction by illegal trade, according to a recent press-release from Fauna and Flora international (FFI), is the beautiful Union Island Gecko Gonatodes daudini, a tiny lizard about the length of a little finger.
With vivid, colourful scales and bright orange-rimmed eyes, the species is found in just one 50 hectare forest, on a tiny island in the Caribbean: Union Island, part of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
That is – of course – if you don’t count the ones found in the tanks of gecko collectors around the globe who are rapidly driving the Union Island Gecko towards extinction.
Collected to the point of extinction
Under the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Wildlife Protection Act of 1987, it’s illegal to remove the geckos (or any other wildlife) without written permission but collectors have caused a complete collapse of their wild population.
Only discovered in 2005, so many geckos have been stolen from the wild that surveys in 2018 revealed that the population had plummeted by nearly 80%.
Just six years after it was named by science the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the body that sets the conservation status of wildlife, listed the Union Island Gecko as Critically Endangered (meaning it is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild).
Islanders and conservation organisations are fighting back.
Wardens patrol the forest every day and community groups have also begun tours for tourists to raise awareness about the threats of poaching and development, as well as to highlight the importance of preserving what remains of the gecko’s forest habitat.
FFI are currently fundraising to cover the entire area with surveillance cameras. Wardens – who are already working with local port authorities – will be able to then find and stop every trader who attempts to steal the gecko.
A familiar story
The story of the Union Island Gecko is unfortunately a familiar one.
A species is discovered, announcements are made in scientific journals, details of sightings spread across the internet, and collectors, poachers, and traders inevitably follow.
That conundrum is also a familiar one: without highlighting vulnerable species (especially ones confined to small areas of habitat at risk of development or conversion) it’s difficult to get them the protection they need.
Will the Union Island Gecko become yet another casualty of our War On Wildlife? A great deal of effort is being put into ensuring that it doesn’t, but conservation resources are always limited and have to be spread across an ever-broadening area.
If you’d like more information, please go to Union Island Gecko
- Header photo copyright Fauna and Flora International