Activists warned yesterday that wild populations of Southeast Asia's striking tokay gecko were in danger of being overhunted for use in traditional medicine in China and other countries.
Calling the industry "colossal", wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC said that despite high reproductive rates and adaptability, tokay gecko populations "are still susceptible to over-harvesting". Population declines had been reported in places like Thailand and Indonesia, it said.
The tokay gecko can grow up to 40cm long, weigh more than 300 grams and is distinguished by a brilliant coating of spots that range from bright yellow to red and its loud croaking call.
It ranges throughout Southeast Asia and is not a protected species in most countries.
It is used in traditional medicines in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Vietnam to treat asthma, diabetes and other ailments, TRAFFIC said, adding that an individual specimen can command hundreds of dollars.
Data showed Taiwan imported 15 million of the geckos since 2004, it said. Trade accelerated in recent years amid rumours the geckos could help cure Aids, which the World Health Organisation has refuted.