Are Crested Geckos Endangered in the Wild?
Crested geckos rank as beloved reptile pets today, but 150 years ago, nobody had heard about them.
That’s when they were first discovered and went on a slippery hill ever since. They were thought to be extinct shortly after that due to their numbers dwindling visibly until they were re-confirmed in 1994.
The problem is that their situation hasn’t gotten any better since. Crested geckos are struggling in the wild today, and they aren’t doing much better in captivity either.
But are they endangered in the true sense of the word?
Crested Gecko Vulnerability Status
Crested geckos currently have a vulnerable status, which basically means they face a high risk of extinction.
This notion applies differently to different species depending on their social fragmentation, habitat, the species’ survivability and adaptability as a whole, etc.
Geckos, for instance, don’t showcase a severely fragmented population, but they do show a decline in the number of adult reptiles.
So, they are slowly going downhill, which is why they are likely to get protected status under CITES (Convention on International Trade of Wild Flora and Fauna).
Causes of Decline in Population of Wild Crested Geckos
Crested geckos are on the decline in the wild for a variety of reasons.
– Loss of Habitat
Loss of habitat is a common motif among endangered species, and it all relates to natural disasters like wildfires and landslides and human activity like logging, deforestation, agriculture, etc.
These activities aren’t usually a massive problem, provided that the species has a lot of lands to fall back to.
But this isn’t the case with crested geckos. Their geographical positioning places them in a high-risk situation due to the fact that they have nowhere to go.
All crested geckos come from one place – New Caledonia. This is a country island spanning over 11,000 miles, but geckos only occupy a small portion of that.
They are only found in approximately 300 square miles, and that habitat is diminishing rapidly.
Needless to say, they are bound to go extinct unless human intervention prevents that.
– New Diseases
Wild crested geckos are at a higher risk of contracting dangerous pathogens than the ones raised in captivity.
While captive geckos can also get sick, their health issues relate mostly to digestive problems, dehydration, shedding issues, etc. In short, these are rather benign and can be fixed relatively easily.
Unfortunately, wild geckos have no advanced pet medicine to look out for them in the wild. They are also at risk of contracting various parasites and bacteria that can kill them fast.
These pathogens multiply and spread fast and are capable of decimating entire gecko colonies.
One such organism is the Entamoeba invadens – a pretty tale-telling name for such a voracious micro-predator.
This organism can easily be countered via metronidazole, so it isn’t a problem in captive geckos. But in the wild, it can easily destroy an entire gecko colony.
Cryptosporidium is another dangerous protozoan known to infect and transmit between geckos easily. It also has no current cure.
All these diseases and conditions come together to cull large parts of the gecko population, contributing to the problem.
Unfortunately, this one problem is notoriously difficult to combat due to the gecko’s geographical spread.
The fact that they only live on one island in a relatively small area works against all efforts to contain the spread of various dangerous pathogens.
– Natural Predators
Unfortunately, the little crested gecko has quite a handful of predators in the wild.
Everything feeds on this friendly reptile, including snakes, birds, small mammals, and even spiders and ants.
This is primarily due to the fact that geckos don’t have any real defense mechanism other than laying low.
To make things worse, the presence of humans also works in the gecko’s detriment in this sense.
Domestic cats and dogs are also known to kill and even eat geckos if given the opportunity. So, life is not easy for these lizards.
– Illegal Trafficking
It is currently illegal to export geckos from their natural habitat due to their vulnerable status.
As you can suspect, this doesn’t stop illegal activities targeting the gecko population. A lot of poachers and collectors attempt to traffic geckos, especially since they’re so prevalent and valued on the pet market.
This leads us to an interesting question about the ethics of keeping geckos as pets.
Is it ethical to have a gecko pet or not? Yes, it is. That’s because pet crested geckos are bred in captivity, not brought in from their natural habitat.
There, now you can sleep tight at night.
– Invasive Species
This is another common theme when discussing endangered species. Invasive species are always dangerous and a major component in the downfall of other species in their natural habitat.
This happens with goldfish, for instance. Goldfish are known to multiply fast, eat a lot, and produce a lot of waste.
They won’t actively hunt other fish necessarily but will eliminate them via their superior appetite and breeding capabilities.
This allows goldfish to take over the environment fast because native species aren’t adapted to the intruders and don’t know how to counter them.
The same thing has happened with crested geckos when fire ants spread throughout their environment as well.
These are dangerous predators that, despite their seemingly innocuous size, pose a threat to animals far larger than them.
Their venom can paralyze other creatures, and ants work in large groups to kill and devour larger prey.
Their threat to the geckos’ existence comes via 2 main channels. Firstly, the ants prey upon the same insects geckos eat.
This leads to competition between the 2 species, with ants getting the upper hand thanks to their numbers and hunting proficiency.
So, geckos will starve and develop nutritional deficiencies because of it, which can be deadly in some cases.
Secondly, the ants will attack the geckos themselves as they make for nutritious meals and easy prey. The ants will easily swarm the geckos and paralyze them with venom.
Fire ants are a massive problem for geckos since the reptiles have no real means of protection against them.
These insects are also notoriously to combat due to their reproductive prowess and being widespread throughout the geckos’ habitat.
When and Where Were Crested Geckos Discovered?
The official date when the crested gecko was first discovered is 1866, and the ‘culprit’ is Alphonse Guichenot, who first described the species.
Crested geckos reside in southern New Caledonia and occupy a small area relative to the country’s overall size.
Unfortunately, the gecko has remained limited to its native area, and it’s unlikely that it will be able to leave to other parts without human intervention.
However, the goal today is to preserve the species and dial down the natural and manmade dangers threatening the lizard’s existence.
How Many Crested Geckos Are Left in the Wild?
There isn’t any relevant information on the number of crested geckos currently available in the wild.
This may sound weird, given that this is a beloved pet among many terrarium keepers. So, you would think that someone’s keeping count, right?
Little is known about wild geckos besides some essential characteristics, like diet, environmental conditions, breeding behavior, etc.
We still don’t know the reptile’s actual lifespan, for instance. Many gecko breeders have reported their geckos living in captivity for around 15-20 years.
Sometimes even more. But we don’t know how many geckos live in the wild in their natural habitat, provided we eliminate predation, human-related gecko deaths, and diseases.
We know that crested geckos aren’t doing too good, and all their problems stem from their geographical limitations.
This problem became even more glaring with time, causing the New Caledonian government to ban exports.
These were open previously for scientific purposes, allowing the export of gecko for species research and even commercial trading.
All of the crested geckos available today on the pet market are bred in captivity since it’s illegal to export any wild geckos.
Crested geckos are unlikely to go extinct anytime soon, thanks to their astounding prowess and adaptability.
However, it’s undeniable that the gecko population is currently on edge in the wild. We’ve already discussed the main factors contributing to the species’ possible demise, but, fortunately, they are reversible.
There are currently efforts being made to preserve the geckos’ natural habitat.