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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

St Lucia Whiptail (Cnemidophorus vanzoi)

Photo / Te-Hsin Tsai
Article / Nicole La Force

The St Lucia Whiptail (Cnemidophorus vanzoi) affectionately called Zando is a species of lizard that is quite beautiful. It is endemic to Saint Lucia (found nowhere else) and is the only species of Cnemidophorus (whiptails) found in the eastern Caribbean.

The female is a lovely chocolate brown with white spots on the sides and coincidentally the male contains all the colors of the St. Lucia flag. Talk about a flagship specie!

This species of lizards came to the attention of scientist in the 1960’s and its population was estimated to be just about 1000 individuals distributed between Maria Major and Maria Minor, islets south of the island. This made the lizard quite vulnerable to extinction.

Because of this, the Forestry Department along with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has been translocating small Zando populations to some of our offshore islets, Praslin and Rat Island for example.

These offshore islets first had to be cleared of all natural predators to Zando, these being rats, mongoose, manicou and cats. It has been found that the lizards are thriving on Praslin islet and though only 42 lizards were translocated there in 1995, the population is now estimated to be a little over 300.

This is great cause for celebration but we cannot let our guard down yet. Apart from the natural predators mentioned earlier, Zando is very vulnerable to hurricanes, droughts, fires and especially the irresponsible actions of man.

Many persons go to these offshore islets and light fires, litter (things I have seen with my own eyes) and who knows, inadvertently transport rats to these locations. All of this undermines the work that is being done to preserve and protect these beautiful creatures.

For Zando not to be completely vulnerable to extinction populations of no less than 500 individuals need to exist on all our offshore islands and that’s a target that we have not met but are striving towards.

Your help is needed in getting the word out. In many countries, people fight to preserve and protect what is uniquely theirs. We need to learn from them and do the same. We are so fortunate to have such a wonderful treasure as Zando, uniquely St. Lucian but so many of us are unaware or just don’t care one way or another.

Our thinking needs to change as a people. We need to appreciate and preserve our heritage, what is uniquely ours that improves our quality of life and that of the future generation.