Two rare reptile species native to two delicate island ecosystems—the Black Tree Monitor, native to the Aru Islands off the coast of Papua New Guinea; and the Mossy Leaf-tailed Gecko, native to Madagascar—have reproduced at the San Diego Zoo and offer hope for two little-known, yet important species.
Four Black Tree Monitor babies hatched from eggs laid in January and are the first ever hatched at the zoo. The young lizards weigh about two-fifths of an ounce each, and are doing well.
Black Tree Monitors live in the hot, humid forests and mangrove swamps of the Aru Islands off the coast of Papua New Guinea. They are dependent on the forest canopy to survive, but most of the regional forest on the Aru Islands has already been lost. Other threats to the species include the pet trade and non-native predators, such as foxes and cats. With the threats the Black Tree Monitor faces in the wild, establishing insurance populations in accredited zoos will help ensure the survival of the species.
Mossy Leaf-tailed Geckos face similar challenges in the wild, and have also experienced recent breeding success. The zoo received a confiscated group of mossy Leaf-tailed Geckos in 2010. The geckos have since produced eight hatchlings, with several generations now thriving at the zoo.
Leaf-tailed Geckos have evolved to resemble leaves, blending into their forest surroundings to avoid predators and better ambush their insect prey. However, more than 80 percent of Madagascar’s forests have been decimated by logging, agriculture, housing development and other human activity, threatening the future of the species. With these ongoing threats, keeping healthy satellite populations outside of Madagascar is increasingly important as a safeguard against extinction.