Union Island gecko: Critically endangered tiny reptile returns from brink of cliff

The population of Union Island geckos has declined due to increased demand from the illegal international pet trade, but environmentalists working with locals in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have helped increase their numbers.


30 November 2022

Union Island gecko (Gonatodes daudini) small but beautiful

Jacob Bock/ Fauna and Flora International

The brightly colored and paperclip-sized critically endangered gecko species has nearly doubled since 2018, thanks to conservation efforts in collaboration with local residents.

Union Island gecko (gonatodes daudini) is found in the Chatham Bay forest on the island of the same name in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. It was first scientifically identified in 2005 and quickly became highly attractive to the illegal international pet trade thanks to its multicolored jewel-like markings. This has led to aggressive poaching and human trafficking that has seen the wild population decline.

The remaining reptiles live on a 50-hectare former forest slope, making them particularly vulnerable to human activity. So, in 2016, the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Forestry Department and conservation organizations worked with local residents to come up with some sort of recovery plan.

These conservation efforts ranged from expansion and increased management of protected areas to anti-poaching patrols and 24-hour camera surveillance by community rangers in the forest. As a result, Union Island gecko numbers have increased from 10,000 in 2018 to 18,000 today.

“As a Unionist and community leader, I am extremely proud to be a part of this success story,” said Roseman Adams, co-founder of the local Union Island Environmental Alliance.

“Rescuing the Union Island gecko in the wild has been a collaborative effort,” says Jenny Daltry of Fauna and Flora International and Re:wild, the two international conservation charities that were part of the study. “The people of Union Island are rightly proud of their wonderful and unique geckos and ancient forests to work with.”

Success in conserving the gecko has led conservation groups to develop a broader initiative aimed at protecting other wildlife in the Chatham Bay forest while providing sustainable employment and development opportunities for the local community in the process. “Although it is small, it is full of endangered and endemic animals and plants, and new species are still emerging,” says Daltry.

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