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Union Island gecko

Miniature jewel in jeopardy


The Union Island gecko is a tiny, breathtakingly beautiful lizard distinguished by jewel-like markings.

It is named after a small Caribbean island belonging to St Vincent and the Grenadines, lying roughly halfway between this country and neighbouring Grenada.

The only known population of this incredibly rare gecko is confined to a 50-hectare patch of forest on Union Island. After the species was first formally described by science in 2005, numbers rapidly declined as a result of rampant poaching for the illegal pet trade. By 2018, this single population was estimated to comprise 9,960 individuals, including juveniles, just 20% of its former size.

Its minuscule size makes the Union Island gecko very vulnerable to desiccation. To avoid drying out, it lives mainly in moist crevices or under logs and rocks. Very little else is known about the behaviour and life history of this recently discovered lightweight lizard.

Fascinating facts about the Union Island gecko

    Single chance

    There is only one known population of the Union Island gecko.

    Union Island Gecko. © Jeremy Holden / Fauna & Flora

    Union Island Gecko. © Jeremy Holden / Fauna & Flora

    Tipping the scales

    The Union Island gecko weighs less than a pinch of salt.

    Tiny home

    The entire range of this lizard is just 50 hectares – not much bigger than Vatican City.

    Small is beautiful

    A fully grown Union Island gecko measures just 3cm, roughly the size of a paperclip.


    The fall in Union Island gecko numbers from 2010 to 2018.

What are the main threats to the Union Island gecko?

Poaching of wild Union Island geckos to supply the illegal pet trade poses a grave and increasing threat to the species’ survival. Illegal collection was first reported soon after the species was described, and has since accelerated.

Surveys in 2018 revealed that gecko numbers had plummeted by nearly 80% in accessible parts of the species’ range since 2010, largely as a result of collectors – including local residents and international visitors – plundering the small population and destroying its fragile habitat. 

Union Island geckos are openly sold online to buyers, especially in the UK, France, Switzerland, USA and Japan, despite the fact that no permit has ever been issued to collect or export this lizard for any purpose. Although there is no authorised captive-breeding programme, there is evidence of online sales by breeders in Switzerland, Germany, Spain and the Czech Republic.

Illegal collection poses the most immediate threat to the Union Island gecko, but it is also under severe pressure from habitat loss. Collectors have caused serious damage to this tiny lizard’s mini-refuge by turning over rocks and breaking apart logs and termite mounds. This needless destruction jeopardises the survival of the remaining geckos and other native species that are highly vulnerable to predators and drought.

Union Island gecko. © Jacob Bock / Fauna & Flora

Union Island gecko. © Jacob Bock / Fauna & Flora

The tiny and ornate Union Island gecko.

How can we help save the Union Island gecko?

In 2015, the St Vincent and the Grenadines Forestry Department contacted Fauna & Flora and asked us to help them save this miniature gem of a lizard. On investigation, we found 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, Fauna & Flora worked with Union Islanders to develop a recovery plan. This 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 also ultimately depends on wider global support in the form of international legislation and collaboration.

Fauna & Flora is raising awareness of this bejewelled lizard’s plight among key international policy makers. This work focuses mainly on 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 can prevent the extinction of this species. The good news is that the Union Island gecko has now been added to Appendix I of CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), granting it the highest possible level of protection.

All these combined conservation measures are beginning to reap rewards. The most recent (2022) survey has revealed a heartening 80% increase in Union Island gecko numbers since 2018. But this reptile remains firmly on the critical list.

Union Island Gecko © Jeremy Holden / Fauna & Flora

Exquisite & Endangered

The Union Island gecko is in urgent need of protection from poachers seeking to profit from the illegal collection and sale of this tiny Caribbean reptile.

Please support our efforts to rescue this critically endangered lizard.


Union Island Gecko © Jeremy Holden / Fauna & Flora