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Expanding Christmas Island's Reptile Captive Breeding Facilities

FNPW Project Focus:
Threatened Species

Project Partners
FNPW & Parks Australia: Christmas Island National Park

Location
Christmas Island

Thanks to your support, reptile species only found on Christmas Island are being saved from extinction through a captive breeding program established in 2009. Since then, FNPW and our supporters have funded two projects in 2013 and 2015 to house the growing reptile populations.

The building of a new reptile housing facility and the construction of eight predator-proof enclosures on the island, funded by a FNPW grant in 2013. The facilities allowed endemic skink and gecko populations to increase, safe from introduced predators like cats, centipedes and wolf snakes. The enclosures hold up to 1,000 skinks. 

Christmas Island National Park’s captive breeding facility is known as the Lizard Lodge. The enclosures of the Lizard Lodge hold almost every blue-tailed skink and Lister’s gecko known to exist. There’s a much smaller breeding population at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, but this facility, in the lizards’ native environment, represents their last, best hope for survival.

The enclosure taking shape

Christmas Island was once home to five endemic reptiles, but today it’s quite possible that only one of these species survives in the wild. What is known is that small-island populations are hit hard by introduced pests and diseases. Prior to the late 1880s, people rarely visited remote Christmas Island, and never permanently settled. But when people eventually did stay to mine the island’s phosphate, they brought with them a range of invasive hitchhikers. After millions of years evolving in isolation, the island’s endemic reptiles suddenly had company. Five new non-native reptiles arrived, among them the voracious wolf snake, as well as a cadre of other aggressors, including yellow crazy ants and giant centipedes.

The Lizard Lodge was built in 2014 as a safe place for the remaining lizards, with enclosures free from predation and carefully furnished to make the inhabitants feel at home. Since 2009, these captive populations have dramatically increased and now can’t all be held within the existing facilities. The expansion project was undertaken in 2015 with funding from FNPW. Within each tank are arranged sticks, rocks and sheets of bark for the lizards to lounge upon. There are also small wooden boxes, about the size of a deck of cards, crafted to mimic the nooks and crannies of the island’s porous limestone.  

The finished building

Local community and tourists have been involved through educational, photography, and volunteering activities. Before this expansion, captive populations had reached a peak number that could be protected within the existing facilities. Now new enclosures mean reptile populations can continue to grow and, once threats have been mitigated, they'll be released into the wild.