Endangered Species Day Highlight – Barbados Endemic Leaf-Toed Gecko

“If we human beings learn to see the intricacies that bind one part of a natural system to another and then to us, we will no longer argue about the importance of wilderness protection, or over the question of saving endangered species, or how human communities must base their economic futures – not on short-term exploitation – but on long-term, sustainable development”

Gaylord Nelson

Since the beginning of time, countless creatures have come and gone. And while extinction is a natural occurrence, there is growing concern at the rate species go into extinction. The successful preservation of any endangered species relies heavily on access to data.  Where data is lacking or non-existent, data collection is critical for the development of species action plans. At the Caribbean Protected Areas Gateway (CPAG), we are all about linking data to better decisions and using data to drive policy that will positively impact the environment.

Currently, there are 41,415 species on the IUCN Red List, and 16,306 of them are endangered species threatened with extinction. This is up from 16,118 last year. A species is classified as endangered when its population has declined between 50 and 70 percent and when its population is restricted to less than 250 mature individuals.

Many may summon images of gorillas, tigers and elephants when the phrase ‘endangered species’ is mentioned. However, there are many other species under threat that we may not even be aware of.

The Caribbean is home to a diverse variety of species and is one of the world’s greatest centers of endemic biodiversity. However, many species are considered threatened or endangered.  According to the World Bank Critical Ecosystm Partnership Fund – Caribbean Hotspot Project, there are “992 globally threatened species in the region due to overexploitation of living resources, habitat destruction and fragmentation due to agriculture, tourism, and urban development driven by population growth”.

The leaf-toed gecko (Phyllodactylus pulcher) is one of these threatened species. The gecko is endemic to the island of Barbados and is critically endangered, with a dwindling population and habitat range.

Because of its rarity, little was understood about its natural history. This species was thought to be extinct by 1979, but two were discovered in the early 1990s. These were the last sightings until the species was rediscovered on Culpepper Island, a tiny (0.15ha) islet off the east coast of Barbados in 2011.

Phyllodactylus pulcher sightings during surveys conducted in 2013 and 2014

No more than 250 adults have been confirmed on the island. These geckos are predominantly scansorial (capable of, or adapted for climbing), inhabiting rocky cliff habitats in natural vegetation zones.

Scientists have pointed many causes for the near-extinction of the Phyllodactylus pulcher. Invasive predatory species such as rats and mongooses, competition from the invasive house gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia), and habitat degradation as a result of residential and resort construction along the coast are a few examples.

Recently, Barbados’s Ministry of Environment’s Biodiversity Conservation and Management Unit put together tasks that will help preserve this species. Some of which include:

  • Identification of potential sites for a bio-secure area
  • Remove invasive species 
  • Monitoring gecko abundance and recovery
  • Public awareness campaign

While there are still threats to the Phyllodactylus pulcher, the awareness raised along with the collection of data will eventually lead to better decisions; meaning that there is hope for the gecko.

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Cover image – Culpepper Island, Barbados. Credit: coreycam

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