Field Assistant, Connor Blades, showing the BGIS team a leaf-toed gecko. (A. Reid/BGIS)

You are not likely to see them during the day, but if you look in the crevices of the clifftops along the coastline at night, you will find the Leaf-toed Gecko. Endemic to Barbados, the gecko is a type of lizard which is active at night, and is considered very friendly. It feeds off cockroaches, spiders, crickets, moths and insects which are also mainly nocturnal.

What makes this lizard special is that it is only found in Barbados, and if it becomes extinct, it will disappear from this planet for good. But, officials in the Biodiversity Conservation and Management Section of the Ministry of the Environment and National Beautification are not prepared to let that happen.

Re-discovered in 2011 after being presumed extinct, officials are taking all precautions to protect the leaf-toed gecko, which has been found in areas of the limestone cliff on the north and southeast coasts of the island.

Now, efforts are under way to establish a bio-secure site at Paragon, Christ Church, as a pilot study under the Global Environment Facility-funded project entitled: Preventing Costs of Invasive Alien Species (IAS) in Barbados and Countries of the OECS, with the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International as the regional partner.

Assistant Project Coordinator with the Biodiversity Conservation and Management Section of the Ministry of the Environment and National Beautification, Rohan Payne, explained that the project focuses on creating a bio-secure site for the Barbados leaf-toed gecko as part of a larger conservation effort to preserve the species and help to recover them from near extinction.

“So, we are looking at creating a fenced off area, eradicating all of the threats to the gecko within that area and then organising the habitat and making it a bit friendlier towards [it], and allowing the population to breed and to proliferate in there,” he said.

“Like fingerprints, geckos have unique dorsal patterns on their backs so we can use that to track individual geckos over time.”

Field Assistant, Connor Blades

He added that once the pilot project which got under way in November last year was successful, it was hoped that a similar effort would be replicated in other areas to reintroduce the gecko into habitats where it would have existed originally but can no longer be found.

That, Mr. Payne explained, was part of a larger regional project designed to tackle species alien to Barbados which now pose a danger to the island’s biodiversity or human health.

That, he said, would include species such as cats, rats, mongooses, centipedes, and anything that could have a detrimental effect on the island’s biodiversity. In addition, the invasive house gecko, found in residential areas adjacent to the leaf-toed gecko, has also been identified as a competitor.

He added that the Ministry was working with the University of the West Indies and International partners such as Fauna and Flora International and CABI to monitor the Gecko species and increase its numbers.

A team from the Barbados Government Information Service recently accompanied Ministry officials on a field trip to monitor and track the geckos at College Savannah, St. John.

The leaf-toed gecko is endemic to Barbados. It was thought to be extinct but was re-discovered in 2011. (A. Reid/BGIS)

During that trip, Field Assistant on the project, Connor Blades, explained the mission involved monitoring the gecko by searching their habitat, catching, weighing and measuring them, and taking photographs to add to the database.

“Like fingerprints, geckos have unique dorsal patterns on their backs so we can use that to track individual geckos over time,” he said.

Mr. Blades explained that the gecko was a friendly species and did not even bite when caught. He added that there were male and female geckos. 

“Generally, females lay one to two eggs, but we are not sure how long they take to incubate, but probably between a month to two months. Juveniles are only about two centimeters long essentially, and they will grow to 66 millimeters long in about six months to a year,” he pointed out.

During the interview, Mr. Blades noted that under the project they were not yet able to track the geckos long enough to determine their true lifespan.

“So, if a full grown gecko has a six-centimeter-long tail and loses the entire tail, it takes about two months for it to grow back. It is just a defence mechanism to try and get the gecko to save itself at the expense of a small bit of its tail.”

Field Assistant, Connor Blades

However, he lamented the fact that the geckos were hunted by predators, which consisted mainly of invasive species such as rats and large centipedes, which were introduced to Barbados.

He explained that when attacked, the gecko had the ability to willfully break its tail to escape a predator. He noted that the wiggling tail would distract the predator, giving the gecko time to escape.

“So, if a full grown gecko has a six-centimeter-long tail and loses the entire tail, it takes about two months for it to grow back. It is just a defence mechanism to try and get the gecko to save itself at the expense of a small bit of its tail,” he explained.

The Barbados leaf-toed gecko was designated as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 2017.

The Biodiversity Section of the Ministry continues its work on the development of the bio-secure site at Paragon, Christ Church, and has commenced the rollout of public awareness material through a suite of Biodiversity Barbados branded platforms. Information may be found on its website, Instagram and Facebook platforms.

The IAS project also involves pilot studies aimed at eradicating rats and mongooses at Bath Beach, St. John, for the protection of the hawksbill sea turtle and assessing impacts and management strategies for lionfish on high value coral reefs.

julia.rawlins-bentham@barbados.gov.bb

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