In 2015, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) was approached by the St Vincent and the Grenadines Forestry Department to help save this miniature gem of a lizard. Further investigations confirmed that live geckos were being poached and sold abroad to collectors, and their forest habitat was in grave danger of being destroyed.
In partnership with the forestry department and Virginia Zoo, FFI worked with Union Islanders to develop a recovery plan, which aims to halt illegal exploitation of the geckos and other wildlife, and to use the gecko as a flagship for conserving its forest habitat, which harbours a remarkable variety of animals and plants. Locally recruited wardens now patrol the forest, and 2017 saw the first arrest and conviction of a reptile poacher. Further work is under way to safeguard the amazing wildlife of Chatham Bay, to transform the gecko into a mascot for Union Island, and to develop more sustainable livelihoods for impoverished islanders.
Local conservation actions led by St Vincent and the Grenadines to protect the Union Island gecko are only half the battle. Their success will ultimately depend on wider global support in the form of international legislation and collaboration.
FFI is also raising awareness of this bejewelled lizard’s plight among key international policy makers, particularly in countries that are known destinations for live Union Island geckos that have been illegally collected and sold on the international market to overseas reptile enthusiasts.
Only the most stringent protection measures – which include adding the species to Appendix I of CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) – can prevent the extinction of this species.