The Illegal trade of exotic lizards

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The Gecko’s Plight

Poachers have got their way of doing things using even glues and rodent traps to catch the rare lizards

 By: Mubina Akhtar

The lizard remained unmoved, stuck in the glue and it was difficult to ascertain whether it was dead or alive. As we waited for the veterinarian to arrive, I could not but wonder at the working of that evil mind behind the predicament of the tiny creature! I have heard about glue traps but this was for the first time I actually came across one. A team from the Assam State Zoo brought or rather rescued the Tokay Gecko from the premises of a bank in Guwahati, capital city of Assam, last week. Glue was sprayed on the floor of a plastic basket and cockroaches or may be grasshoppers were used as baits to attract the Gecko! The perpetrators told the rescue team that the gecko had fallen into the glue trap meant for rodents! Not many people would buy this story in the present scenario—when illegal trade of wildlife has been shifting towards online markets which are offering lucrative prices for wildlife parts and even the humble gecko fetching “unbelievable” prices depending on its weight and size. This has made the nocturnal Asian lizard more vulnerable.

The Assam State Zoo-cum-Botanical Garden at the heart of Guwahati has become a transit for “rescued” geckos. “We rescue a number of them every month from illegal traders and it falls on us to collect live cockroaches and grasshoppers to feed them daily,” said a zoo attendant.

The Tokay Gecko belongs to the Gekkonidae family and has been found extensively in Northeast India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Indonesia, Philippines to western New Guinea in Melanesia. An arboreal native of the rainforest habitat, the gecko intrudes into human habitation preying on insects – considered now a fatal attraction. Not only the Tokay Gecko (Gekko gecko), but the Golden Gecko (Gekko badenii) and the Assamese Day Gecko (Cnemaspis assamensis) are considered equally vulnerable. Encouraged by the astronomical prices, illegal trafficking of the lizard has seen a spurt in the region in recent years. “The craze has reached such a level that there has been undercover gecko breeding centres operating in the state, in the Assam-Arunachal border,” revealed a Wildlife Crime Control Bureau official at the sub regional office on conditions of anonymity.

Many hundreds of cases have been detected across India’s northeastern states where locals are found to be selling Tokay Geckos to wildlife traffickers under well-organized international rackets, who in the process smuggle them to Chinese medicine hubs across Asia en route Nepal and Myanmar.

“A fluid resembling blood is sucked out through syringes by the “experts” from the gecko,” said a youth Mohan Das (name changed) who was once arrested for dealing in the “business.” Mohan said that the fluid is used in the “treatment of cancer” and the “buyers” are always ready to give “any prices” provided it was a Tokay Gecko! Without any scientific proof, the reported medicinal properties coupled with new research on its adhesive characteristic has made the humble gecko highly endangered as locals are now in hot pursuit of the lizard to make easy money.

According to reports –“Geckos have now become an important subject of study in space research and studies are conducted to replicate the unique adhesive ability of its feet. This can help in capturing free floating uncontrollable space debris which threatens the expensive spacecraft and satellites.”

In 2014, the gecko was listed in the Schedule-IV of India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 meaning a three-year imprisonment for those convicted in hunting and smuggling geckos. However, legal protection for the species remains inadequate. “Legal protection for the gecko remains inadequate as long as it remains non-included in the IUCN’s red list,” says Jayanta Kumar Das, honorary Wildlife Warden of Udalguri district in the Assam-Bhutan border. Jayanta is credited with “rescuing” a number of the species. “The State Forest Department as well as the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau have failed measurably to curb the trade. Violators of the Act mostly go unpunished,” he said. As a result trafficking of these “lesser” wildlife have soared in recent years.

 

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