Geckos and skinks rescued from the brink of extinction
THE LISTER GECKO (Lepidodactylus listeri) and the blue-tailed skink (Cryptoblepharus egeriae) have been successfully rescued from extinction through two captive breeding programs, with both species being released into a wild enclosures.
Both species of reptile are a critical food source for wildlife inhabiting the island, including the hawk owl and the Christmas gosawk.
The two programs are managed by Taronga Zoo, Parks Australia and the University of Western Australia to ensure the survival of the species after populations had been devastated by predators like the wolf snake, which was introduced in 1987
The preliminary release of the species into a wild enclosure began in April this year, with 139 blue-tailed skinks being released into a fenced area where predators had been removed.
The decision to recover the two species immediately was made by the Christmas Island Expert Working Group back in 2009 after numbers rapidly declined.
“In 2010 we caught 20-30 blue-tailed skinks from a site the size of a tennis court. It was the last known area where we could find them. In establishing and maintaining the captive population, we overcame many unknowns as neither species had been bred in captivity before,” said Brendan Tiernan, the Christmas Island National Park Field Program Coordinator.
“In 2016 we doubled the population of each species starting with fewer than 500 and ending with about 1000 individuals of each at the end of the year.”
John-Paul Emery, a researcher from the University of Western Australia said that the trials will be closely monitored to analyse the survival and condition of the skinks, which will guide the next steps of the program, including the release of the two species back into the wild.
“What we’re hoping for is that the skinks will establish functioning self-sustaining populations with minimal intervention from people, if introduced predators are controlled,” he said.
“If this release is successful, it will allow the potential for more skinks to be reintroduced into enclosures on Christmas Island, a major step in securing the future of the species.”
There has been an overall decline of species on Christmas Island, including two confirmed extinctions of different rodent species and two probable extinctions, so officials working on the program have welcomed the good news.
(Image Credit: Kirsty Faulkner)
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