The singular gecko


My first, and only, encounter with a Tokay gecko was with the individual in the photo above. I blogged some time back about seeing it in the Nameri Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam.

The website of the Herpetological Society of Ireland informed me that I had seen the black-spotted form of Gekko gecko gecko: native to southern China and northern Vietnam. Northeastern India harbours the red-spotted form. That was a bit odd. So I wrote to John Dunbar, a herpetologist in Maynooth (Ireland) asking whether the two forms could share a forest.

John referred me to a paper which said that there is some evidence that the response of the two variants to humidity and temperature could determine their ranges. As a result the two kinds would not be found in the same forest. My sighting would challenge this model, and therefore could be interesting enough, scientifically, to be publishable. I was happy that a holiday could get me a footnote in a textbook on herpetology or ecology.

But due diligence required that I find the back-story of this singular gecko. I called up Sushil Ngate, my birding guide in Nameri, and asked him whether he knew anything more about this individual. According to Sushil, this gecko had been confiscated from a gang of wildlife smugglers who were caught in a village near the sanctuary. The gecko we saw was a lone specimen found with them, and the forest guards had released it in the location we saw. Presumably the guards did not know the details I learnt from John’s website. So this individual got to where he was by human intervention. There went my dream of fame based on a holiday snapshot.

But there is now scope for many more holidays masquerading as work. Where did the smugglers find this black-spotted Tokay gecko? Surely they did not capture it in Vietnam or China and bring it to India, or did they? If not, then is there a hidden population of these geckos in the vicinity? Can they be found? Isn’t it exciting when a scientific mystery intersects with a criminal mystery?

If you are travelling in the West Kameng Bioreserve, please look for these geckos and record them. I would love to hear from you, and see your pictures. I’m dying to know the resolution of this mystery.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

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