An Increase in Trade of the Tokay Gecko Due to Unfounded Claims of a Miracle Cure for HIV

The Tokay Gecko is being driven to extinction because of claims that the lizard can help treat the HIV virus. Trade of the lizard’s tongue and internal organs has increased in recent years because of online blogs, newspaper articles, and wildlife traders insisting that the consumption of these parts can cure the HIV virus. However, there is no scientific basis to this claim and the Philippines’ government has issued a warning that consumption of the gecko could actually harm patients suffering from HIV/AIDS.

The gecko is popular among the Asian population as pets and they have also been used to treat illnesses such as asthma, cancer, diabetes, and skin disease. In addition, in some Asian cultures, the Tokay Gecko has been used to make wine and whiskey for consumption due to the belief that it helps boost energy. Sadly, this is not the only time a species has been rumored to cure chronic illness which often leads to an increase in poaching and trading activities. Such is the case with rhino horns which sadly has led to much of the species’ endangerment and extinction.

The gecko is being traded mostly in Asia, with China having one of the highest demands for the lizard and its’ parts. Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring organization, has stated that  between 1998 and 2002, more than eight and a half tons of the Tokay Gecko were even being imported into the United States to be used in traditional medicine.

Chris R. Shepherd, a regional director for Traffic, is concerned at the rate in which the trade of these geckos has increased. He stated that if these rates continue to increase, it could take years to undo the damage done to the decrease in the Tokay Gecko population.

The Tokay Gecko is a nocturnal lizard found in northwest India to the Indo-Australian Archipelago. The gecko is one of the largest geckos in the world with a length of 14 inches. As with all species, the Tokay Gecko is beneficial to the ecosystem in regulating insects such as worms, which is part of its’ diet.

So what should be done to help stop the endangerment of the Tokay Gecko? Shepherd believes that the lizards should be protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). 

As with all endangered species, stricter national legislation should be created and maintained in order to protect the Tokay Gecko. As of right now, the Tokay Gecko is poorly protected by national legislation, which in turn has made it easier for traders to smuggle the lizard and its’ parts across national borders.

Photo credit: nsf.gov/news/news_images.jsp?cntn_id=111051&org=NSF

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