Rare reptiles Polaroid Gecko makes comeback in Caribbean- increased by 80%

A tiny, critically endangered gecko with jewel-like markings is thriving in the Caribbean once more, thanks to the commitment of Union Island residents, regional government and a coalition of local and international conservation organisations.

Rare reptiles Polaroid Gecko makes comeback in Caribbean- increased by 80%
Rare reptiles Polaroid Gecko makes comeback in Caribbean- increased by 80%

Caribbean: A tiny, critically endangered gecko with jewel-like markings is thriving in the Caribbean once more, thanks to the commitment of Union Island residents, regional government and a coalition of local and international conservation organisations.

According to a recent survey, the Union Island gecko’s population has risen by 80 per cent in the last five years, from 10,000 in 2018 to around 18,000 -the kind of success that conservation organisations Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Re:wild along with their local partners aim to accomplish together across the Caribbean.

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The only known population of the rare gecko, which is about the size of a paperclip, is confined to a 50-hectare (0.5sq km) patch of ancient forest on Union Island-the southemmost outlier of the St Vincent & the Grenadines archipelago-making it particularly vulnerable to human activities.

The gecko “slowly changes colour when brought into the light from dark brown to multi-coloured, like a Polaroid picture”, says Jenny Daltry, Caribbean Alliance director for Re:wild and FFI. 

First described by science in 2005, the species immediately became a coveted exotic pet. By 2018, the wild population had shrunk to one- fifth of its former size due to aggressive poaching for the international pet trade. A 2017 study found the gecko was the most heavily trafficked reptile from the Eastern Caribbean.

Several organisations, including FFI, the Union Island Environmental Alliance (UIEA) and the St Vincent & the Grenadines Forestry Department, stepped in to prevent the gecko from imminent extinction. 

A species recovery plan has guided a range of conservation efforts, from greater protected area management and expansion, to anti- poaching patrols and 24/7 camera surveillance in the forest.

“It is truly a testimony to the determination of the Forestry Union Island Department-and the amazing community wardens on Union Island – that this gecko has become one of the best guarded reptiles in the world,” says Daltry.

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Roseman Adams, co-founder of the UIEA, adds: “Without a doubt, our shared, unwavering dedication and sacrifice has brought us this far. We now have to be entirely consistent with further improvements in our management and protection of the gecko’s habitat for this success to be maintained.”

Union Island’s tropical dry forest and coral reefs host many endemic species, including the newly described Caribbean diamond tarantula and the Grenadines pink rhino iguana, as well as nesting leatherback and hawksbill turtles.