CABI is working in partnership to help protect Barbados’ endangered endemic leaf-toed gecko from possible extinction with the creation of a bio-secure site for the lizard.

Working as part of the Global Environment Facility-funded project ‘Preventing Costs of Invasive Alien Species (IAS) in Barbados and Countries of the OECS,’ and together with the Biodiversity Conservation and Management Section of the Ministry of the Environment and National Beautification, CABI is helping to establish a conservation area for the creature at Paragon, Christ Church.

Other partners in the pilot study include the University of the West Indies and Fauna and Flora International.

The Leaf-Toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus pulcher) was considered probably extinct by 1979 but in the early 1990s two individuals were found and these were the last sightings until the species was rediscovered on Culpepper Island in 2011.

It is predated on by cane toads, cats and rats and residential and resort development along the coast have added to the threats faced by the leaf-toad gecko which also include competition from the exotic house gecko.

While you are not likely to see them at night, the leaf-toed gecko is a special lizard which can only be found in Barbados. It is a friendly creature which comes out at night and looks to feed off nocturnal insects including cockroaches, spiders, crickets and moths.

Rohan Payne, Assistant Project Coordinator with the Biodiversity Conservation and Management Section of the Ministry of the Environment and National Beautification, said, “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 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.

The work is part of a larger regional project, which also includes support from CABI, designed to tackle species alien to Barbados which now pose a danger to the island’s biodiversity or human health.

The Caribbean Biosecurity Interceptions System (CBIS) – a database for interceptions at ports of entry – was approved at the 14th annual meeting of the Caribbean Plant Health Directors (CPHD) to help reduce the risks posed by IAS to native species such as the leaf-toed gecko.

It is hoped that with the strong endorsement by the CPHD that countries in the region will begin adopting the system soonest.

Once implemented by countries in the region, the CBIS will help meet strict global best practices at ports of entry including International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures that outline procedures for the inspections of plants, plant products and other regulated articles at import and export.

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.

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. “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 centimetres long essentially, and they will grow to 66 millimetres long in about six months to a year.”

The Barbados leaf-toed gecko was designated as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 2017. It is against the law to trade in the species.

Naitram Ramnanan, CABI’s Regional Representative, Caribbean, said, “Barbados and OECS countries are some of the world’s most beautiful places – rich in natural flora and fauna but face considerable environmental challenges due to Invasive Alien Species (IAS) of numerous kinds.

“CABI is pleased to be working in partnership to help protect the leaf-toed gecko with the bio-secure area for conservation but also the control of IAS with key gully ecosystems and rat and mongoose control at sea turtle nesting beaches.”

Additional information

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

You can find out more about the ‘Preventing COSTS of Invasive Alien Species (IAS) in Barbados and the OECS Countries’ here.

Barbados Government Information Service Press Release

The Barbados Government Information Service published a press release in relation to this story which can be read in full here.

Other relevant news story and blog

See also the news story ‘Biosecurity Interception System to be adopted across Caribbean to improve surveillance for Invasive Alien Species’ and the blog ‘CABI highlights top 20 crop pests and diseases for possible prioritization in the Eastern Caribbean.’