The last surviving Christmas Island Forest Skink lives in a tank 1.3 metres long and 65 centimetres wide and high.
Her name is Gump. She’s coddled, doted on and closely watched and she is the last known Christmas Island Forest Skink on the planet.
This 10 centimetre long, bronze reptile with the distinctive earhole on the side of her head lives a protected existence, cared for by Samantha Flakus, the Natural Resource Manager at the Christmas Island National Park and her colleagues and when Gump dies Australia can notch up another extinction.
Gump is one of only two native endemic skinks on the island and her species has lived there for tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of years.
But she’s been eaten out of house and home by, what looks like, a combination of invasive species, including wolf snakes, cats, yellow crazy ants, rats and insecticides used to try to control the crazy ants.
All the non native threats have made it to Christmas Island on cargo ships, as stowaways, or as pets and the results have been catastrophic for the forest skink, which was found across Christmas Island, in large numbers only 40 years ago.
Samantha Flakus says the forest skink hasn’t yet been listed as threatened under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act – a time consuming process – and it’s now too late.
“It’s quite tragic to have only one and not be able to save the species,” she said.
But, while staff watch and wait for the inevitable demise of this species, they have made major progress in preventing two other highly threatened native reptiles from going down the same path.
“When we captured Gump, we also caught a number of endemic Blue-tailed skinks and Lister’s Geckos and we got them in the nick of time to start up a really successful captive breeding program,” said Ms Flakus.
“We started with 43 geckos and now have 169 and we captured 66 Blue-tailed skinks and now have close to 500.
“In 2011 we split the two populations, so there is a breeding program at Taronga Zoo (for both), as well as on Christmas Island.”
That means there is a secondary population for both species, if things go wrong but, until the threats posed by yellow crazy ants and wolf snakes, cats and rats are brought under control, these reptiles are destined to remain in captivity.
Samantha Flakus, Natural Resource manager at the Christmas Island National Park
Producer: Keiren McLeonard
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