Protecting the Brilliant Psychedelic Rock Gecko

It’s got orange feet and an orange tail; a blue-grey body; and a lime green head. The psychedelic rock gecko, a small reptile native to only one island smalls off the coast of southern Vietnam, is endangered.

It was only described for the first time in scientific literature in 2010, but it has already made a splash in the pet trade. Online offers of live psychedelic rock geckoes and their eggs have driven these animals close to extinction. From 2013 to 2015, there were at least 21 different online ads for the colorful creature—mostly from Russia, but also a few from Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic, and the United States, according to a study earlier this year by Mark Auliya at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany. Auliya says he’s also seen young geckos being offered for sale as captive-bred, even though there are no known captive breeding facilities of these geckos.

To make matters worse, psychedelic rock geckos are really picky about where they live. They prefer granite outcrops surrounded by dense forest and a leaf-covered floor. But many of these granite formations are now being literally blasted away to make room for the construction of roads. Plus, they’re really slow to reproduce. All these factors combine to make them extra-sensitive to overcollection.

“The bright colors and endemicity of this species trigger international demand,” Auyliya says. “Any collecting must be considered detrimental to the long-term survival of the species.”

There are only about 500 to 700 left.

Today at the CITES conference, the geckos got some much needed help. It was added to CITES Appendix I, meaning that all international, commercial trade in the species is banned. The European Union and Vietnam put forward the proposal, which says, “ the discovery and description of the species could lead to its extinction due to potential over-collection for the international pet trade.” The proposal passed by a two-thirds majority and was approved by the plenary on Tuesday.