Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 October 2019

Conservationists unite to save UAE’s endangered wonder gecko

Conservationists from Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah are working together to protect the colourful, endangered species known as the wonder gecko.
Wonder geckos are active at night and live in areas that are ideal for developments. Pritpal Soorae / Environment Agency Abu Dhabi
Wonder geckos are active at night and live in areas that are ideal for developments. Pritpal Soorae / Environment Agency Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI // Humans are taking over the homes of a group of the UAE’s smallest residents, so it’s only fair that they provide them with other lodgings.

The endangered wonder gecko, whose sand dune habitats are slowly being taken over by development, is the focus of the first national conservation project for a reptile, led by experts from Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.

The colourful species is one of the UAE’s largest geckos, growing up to 15 centimetres. It was once known as the Moonshine gecko because its eyes glow at night.

“The wonder gecko has very specific soil and climate conditions that it needs and unfortunately all of these areas are now under high development,” said Pritpal Soorae, of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi.

The agency has recorded wonder gecko populations in three surveyed areas including one near the Dubai border, which was cut in half by a road.

This year the agency ensured that most of the area, which covers a few square kilometres and has about 30 of the lizards, was fenced off.

It is working with the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council to have it formally declared protected. Other geckos living in that area were moved to Al Ain Zoo and are doing well, Mr Soorae said.

The wonder gecko might not be as famous in UAE culture as the houbara bustard or Arabian oryx, but it is part of the country’s biodiversity and should be protected, he said.

Johannes Els, of Sharjah’s Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife, agreed: “It is a very difficult thing to explain to people why we should preserve a small gecko.

“Historically, mammals and birds get quite a lot of attention because they are more publicly appealing. Reptiles do not get a lot of attention.”

Mr Soorae is continuing the Abu Dhabi surveys with colleagues from Dubai Municipality.

“We have to treat everything equally,” he said. “This project shows that we can all work together and that even the small, not-so-charismatic species are also important.”

The wonder gecko does not need to drink water to survive, instead collecting moisture from food, and breeds relatively slowly, laying no more than two eggs, and then only once or twice a year.

A genetic study of the species is being carried out with the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona.

The UAE has more biodiversity in reptile species than other groups, making a strong case for better understanding and protecting local reptile species, Mr Els said.

He said losing the wonder gecko to extinction could harm other parts of the ecosystem – a “chain effect” that could damage species that were not yet fully understood.

Sharjah established two protected areas for wonder geckos, including the Misnad area, which provides a square kilometre of fenced-off, pristine habitat for about 60 wonder geckos and animals from 18 other reptile species.

Mr Els and his colleagues in Sharjah have found that wonder geckos also live inland, not just along the coast.

“The next step over the coming five years is to do more in-depth ecological studies and have a look at what these animals particularly require in the wild to survive,” he said.

“Once we have a better understanding of all the requirements, it will be easier for us to make better management ­decisions for these animals in the wild.”

newsdesk@thenational.ae

Updated: April 26, 2017 04:00 AM

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