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Saturday, February 17, 2001

By Allen Allison, Bishop Museum
Large geckos such as this reduce native birds'
food supply and interfere with native plants'

Alien gecko
signals threat to
isles’ native

Giant day geckos have
apparently established
themselves in Manoa

By Janine Tully

Jon Goldberg-Hiller knew right away this was no ordinary gecko.

It was larger than usual, had a neon-green body with reddish spots on its back and red stripes running from the nostrils to the eyes.

"It was an outstandingly beautiful creature, three times the size of your average gecko," said the Manoa resident. "I was stunned by its beauty. It seemed strikingly out of place."

Goldberg-Hiller had just come home from an afternoon outing late last month when he spotted the large lizard stuck to the wall of his front porch.

A wildlife enthusiast and environmentalist, he immediately called the Division of Forestry and Wildlife of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. But he was told he would have to wait until the following morning to have the critter captured. Goldberg-Hiller worried the gecko would slither away, but he was still on the wall when the Department of Land and Natural Resources staff arrived Jan. 25.

"I guess it was too cold, so he hung around the house," Goldberg-Hiller said.

Fred Kraus, the department's alien-species coordinator, had no problem capturing the gecko with his hands. "Geckos are usually skittish," he said. "I got lucky."

Bishop Museum scientists have identified the colorful lizard as an 8-inch giant day gecko (Phelsuma madagascariensis). They are called day geckos because they are active during daylight hours.

This is the second time that this type of gecko has been found in a Manoa residential area. Another one was found four years ago just a few blocks away from where this one was discovered.

"Finding two adults so near together four years apart means that the species has successfully reproduced and is able to survive and expand in the wild," said Kraus.

The lizard is a native of Madagascar, an island in the Indian Ocean, and male specimens can grow to 12 inches. While they are not are threat to humans, they are to Hawaii's native ecosystem, eating insects that native birds eat and interfering with the pollination of native plants, Kraus said.

Herpetologist Allen Allison of the Bishop Museum is concerned that yet another alien gecko has set a foothold in Manoa. They might look like harmless little creatures, Allison said, but they can be devastating to the ecosystem. He pointed to Jackson chameleons and Tokay geckos, which have invaded Oahu, threatening its ecosystem. "The Tokay gecko can be vicious," Allison said. "It eats small mammals and its bite can be painful."

The latest finding emphasizes the need to bolster education, prevention and enforcement against the introduction of alien species, Kraus said. The Legislature needs to provide more funds to address this growing problem, he said.

"The giant day gecko is the 30th species of alien reptile or amphibian to become established in Hawaii," said Kraus. "Like most recent reptile introductions, it came via the illegal pet trade."

Domingo Cravalho of the Department of Agriculture plant quarantine branch agrees that more funding and resources are needed to combat the proliferation of alien species. The animals, some of which are snakes, are brought in illegally as personal pets or for trade, Cravalho said.

The Legislature is becoming more aware of the problem, he said, noting that it has increased fines for the illegal possession of alien animals. The fine for having a giant day gecko, like the one recently caught, is $5,000. Pet traders can be charge with a Class C felony and fined from $50,000 to $200,000. The Internet has caused an increase in the trade of exotic species, Cravalho said.

Anyone finding a giant day gecko or other unusual reptile is asked to call the Department of Agriculture pest hot line at 586-7378.

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