COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - In the world of Associated Zoos and Aquariums, Riverbanks Zoo is the epicenter for leaf-tailed geckos.
Their ability to breed and sustain the species has gained national recognition and is also bringing awareness to an issue thousands of miles away.
“So this is a Henkel's leaf-tailed gecko,” said Sean Foley, a herpetologist at Riverbanks Zoo as he held the reptile in front of our cameras. “He is native to Madagascar, and it's the only place in the world that they are found, and they are masters of camouflage.”
In addition to being extremely hard to find in the wild, Foley says they jump a lot, too.
“They have jumped on many people and surprised many people,” he added.
They tried jumping at our cameras, as well! While you may not see them jumping on exhibit, the ones you do see usually stick themselves to the glass, and they’ve become fan favorites.
“I guess they just like the smooth surfaces, but now the visitors can see everything about them. They can see the skin flaps and see why they're so cool looking,” added Foley.
Foley says they geckos also serve as ambassadors for what’s happening in their native habitat.
“Madagascar is undergoing a lot of deforestation,” said Foley. “We can use the species in education programs we can talk about everything that they represent for their rainforest, and that they are an integral part of their environment, and the food chain- they eat lots of insects.”
Foley says Riverbanks Zoo started breeding the Henkel’s leaf-tailed gecko in 1992 with just a pair. To date, they have more than 100 Henkel’s leaf-tailed geckos. But Riverbanks is home to more than just the Henkel's variety. The zoo actually has more than 350 leaf-tailed geckos.
“Because we've done so well with breeding, we've done a big export from Riverbanks Zoo to the Chester Zoo in England, and they took those geckos and spread them out to different institutions all across Europe,” said Foley.
Because the species is considered vulnerable in the wild, Foley says the goal is to continue to sustain a captive population across the world.
“We’ve improved the genetics, we've improved the demographics of the population and we will want to keep doing that year after year, getting little improvements and making sure they're around for generations to come,” said Foley.
Riverbanks Zoo recently received the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan Sustainability Award for their work with the Henkel’s leaf-tailed gecko. If you want to see them in person, you’ll find them in the Aquarium and Reptile Complex.