Two Rare Reptile Species Thriving at San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo has two new families of rare reptiles on its hands.

The eggs of two rare reptile species, the black tree monitor and the mossy leaf-tailed gecko, have hatched at the Zoo for the first time.

Black tree monitors are native to the humid forests and swamps of the Aru Islands off the coast of Papa New Guinea, but their livelihood has been threatened by continued loss of tree cover that they depend on for survival. The pet trade, and non-native predators, has also played a role in their diminishing population, but four new hatchlings at the Zoo could be the start of a rejuvenating breeding program.

“We’re thrilled to have black tree monitor hatchlings this year, as this is the first time they've successfully reproduced at the San Diego Zoo,” said Dave Grubaugh, a reptile keeper at the San Diego Zoo. “The parents have been with us for three years now, and we've just been patiently waiting for them to reach maturity and bond with each other. They are one part of a larger, fragile ecosystem where every piece is important.”

The monitor hatchlings weigh about 11 grams.

Thanks to their unique scale adaptations, leaf-tailed geckos are very popular in the pet trade. They resemble leaves, making it hard for predators to identify them among the leafy forests of Madagascar, their native region.

The geckos have had their futures threatened by logging, agricultural growth, housing development and other human activity. According to San Diego Zoo Global, 80 percent of their natural habitat has been decimated.

In 2010, the Zoo received a confiscated batch of the geckos and has since helped the reptiles produce eight different hatchlings. The Zoo now has several generations thriving on site.

In the cases of both reptile species, keeping a healthy population remote from their native lands can be of extreme help in the defense against extinction.

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