Union Island wildlife trade: Environmentalists versus poachers
The Union Island Gecko
Front Page
March 3, 2023

Union Island wildlife trade: Environmentalists versus poachers

by Christina Smith

One group seeks to protect while the other seeks to profit- this is the opposing dynamic between the poachers who are working to illegally transport endangered species out of Union Island and the environmentalists who are determined to keep the species from extinction.

Union Island in the Grenadines is home to a number of endangered species, most of them endemic to the island. The most popular for poachers has been the Gonatodes daudini or the Union Island gecko, a tiny creature just three centimetres long, with multicolour jewel-like markings. There is also the Caribbean Diamond tarantula, the pink rhino iguana, as well as the white snake and congo snake.

The poachers, as we hear from founder of the Union Island Environmental Alliance, Roseman Adams, are employing crafty and creative means to continue their lucrative trade, which threatens to drive the species into extinction.

“It is a network. What happens is that they have local persons who assist with other species, is not just the gecko that has been poached…they appear as tourists so because we have trained to know how to identify and see what they’re doing, especially when we interrogate them, that’s how we [are]able to understand it a little bit more.”

And to move the species out, Adams said the poachers make use of yachts to avoid passing through airport security and potentially losing a sale if the species is discovered.

“We have managed to have a nationwide training of all enforcement agencies in St. Vincent the Grenadines, which would entail airport security, customs police, port authority…all the agencies that are involved in law enforcement or some security so that they understand the pet trade and that they know what to look for. So they were trained to be able to look for clues and how to handle evidence so that the criminals don’t get away,” Adams explained.

He said the regular patrols of the Chatham Bay area has yielded good results so far as the team has been able to lay hands on people believed to be wildlife traders.

“We go in at any time and there are times when we are there in the night, people [are] trying to go through. The only thing that we could have charged them with was trespassing. We were not able to catch them with the species. They’re very crafty.”

Adams, and the team, has been able to see the tangible efforts of their hard work with a census conducted on the Union Island gecko in late 2022 showing that the species numbers were improving.

“Based on the last survey that we did, the population has increased by about 80 per cent.”

And there is hope for the continued growth of the species as Adams said it is becoming one of the lesser sought after species for poachers.

“It [gecko] is not in demand as before. Because we have clamped down on that. It may have gone up more, maybe to them [poachers] as a more valuable species. But it’s not the species that is traded now most in the Caribbean.

The wildlife guardians continue to keep their eyes and ears open for threats to the Grenadine wildlife species, recognizing that it is not only poachers who can affect the species habitat.
There is concern about the sale of land at Chatham Bay which has been earmarked for tourism development. Adams said it is the hope of conservationists that land can be reserved for the preservation of the species.

“We have been trying to get it [Chatham Bay] declared as a protected area. Once you have declared a protected area, then certain things cannot be done here. And it gives the Forestry Department more power.”

Adams also noted that development of the area is likely to affect the livelihood of people in Union Island as the forest encourages rainfall. He added that plans to develop Chatham Bay are especially worrying, considering the island is already water-scarce.

“Union Island depends on rain as a source of drinking water. The habitat where species belongs is an undisturbed dry forest and it’s a key biodiversity area of the Caribbean. You have a forest attracting rain to the island and if it is destroyed, then it reduces the amount of water that comes to our island. That’s like putting us in jeopardy. And also the way it is keeping the world is because this space itself also releases oxygen to the world so it’s very important to the world not only just to us.”

If developers do move ahead with plans to transform Chatham Bay into a tourist hub, the Forestry Department believes that there should be an eco-friendly approach to development.

RELATED ARTICLE: Conservation efforts underway to protect Union Island gecko