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The Trade of Tokay Geckos in Hong Kong: A Threat to Biodiversity and Legal Compliance

A WWF-Hong Kong-funded study, recently published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research, reveals a significant trade of dried tokay geckos in traditional medicine outlets across Hong Kong. Entitled 'The Trade of Tokay Geckos (Gekko gecko) in Retail Pharmaceutical Outlets in Hong Kong,' the research draws attention to a pressing environmental and conservation issue in the region.

The study revealed that tokay geckos are one of the most heavily traded species internationally, largely to supply the demand for use in traditional Chinese medicine. Despite being listed as least concern by the IUCN Red List, the species is understood to be in decline in some parts of its range. The survey of 150 shops found that 37% of all shops openly displayed and sold tokay geckos, and based on the survey findings, it is estimated that 15,000 tokay geckos are offered for sale in Hong Kong on any given day. The mean price of a tokay gecko pair is USD12, and the total retail value of the observed stock approaches USD180,000.

“Traditional Chinese medicine businesses in Hong Kong often have tokay geckos on display. Most people might not be aware that the tokay gecko often comes from sources that are illegally harvested. The product's accessibility contributes to the idea that the species is sustainable for human consumption. The significant scale of legal imports and the recent tokay gecko seizures are raising major concerns about the procurement of substances for use in traditional Chinese medicine,” says Jovy Chan, Manager, Wildlife Conservation at WWF-Hong Kong.

The origins of the geckos, as reported by shop owners, often conflict with official records, suggesting illegal imports from Southeast Asia. For instance, despite claims of Vietnamese origins, no corresponding records exist in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Trade Database. The study also highlighted that tokay geckos are clearly being obtained from a combination of legal and illegal sources, and therefore increased vigilance and further investigation is called for to prevent illegal trade.

“Illegal and unsustainable trade is an enormous threat to many of the world’s lesser-known species such as the tokay gecko,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Executive Director of Monitor Conservation Research Society. “More effort is needed to prevent bogus captive breeding and other forms of fraud that facilitate the illegal trade in this species.”

The study calls for immediate action from Hong Kong authorities, emphasizing the need for increased vigilance, thorough investigations, and efforts to understand and reduce the demand for tokay gecko products. Comprehensive measures, including promoting alternative treatments and raising public awareness, are deemed crucial to ensure a harmonious future for both Hong Kong's traditional medicine practices and its biodiversity.

“Our work suggests that the trade in traditional medicine in Hong Kong is in need of better regulation, which would allow Hong Kong to meet its international obligations under CITES,” says Vincent Nijman, professor in anthropology at Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom.

The findings of this study underscore the urgent need for action to protect both these ecologically important reptiles and preserve Hong Kong's biodiversity.

The full report can be accessed here.
© Meg Gawler / WWF
The Trade of Tokay Geckos in Hong Kong: A Threat to Biodiversity and Legal Compliance

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