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 vanishingly 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, so it lives mainly in moist crevices or under logs and rocks to avoid drying out. Very little else is known about the behaviour and life history of this recently discovered lightweight lizard.
Estimated in the wild:
The survival of the Union Island gecko is hanging by a thread. It is vital to enforce the ban on all international trade in this critically endangered species and protect its rapidly declining population from ruthless reptile poachers.
The number of known populations of the Union Island gecko.
The fall in Union Island gecko numbers from 2010 to 2018.
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 serious 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 dismantling logs and termite mounds. This environmental vandalism jeopardises the survival of the remaining geckos and other native species that are highly vulnerable to predators and drought.
The exquisite Union Island gecko is in urgent need of protection from ruthless poachers seeking to profit from the illegal collection and sale of this tiny Caribbean jewel. Please support our efforts to rescue this critically endangered lizard.
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 also ultimately depends on wider global support in the form of international legislation and collaboration.
FFI is 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 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.
Illegal wildlife trade has become a high-profile issue receiving global media attention, not least because of its devastating effect on populations of rhinos, elephants and other charismatic wildlife.
Almost 8,000 species of fish, amphibian, reptile, mammal and bird are officially categorised as globally threatened, and over 9,600 tree species are in danger of extinction.