“The trial release of Christmas Island blue-tailed skinks into the wild is the culmination of ten years of work led by Parks Australia and supported by many fantastic partners,” said Australia's Environment Minister Sussan Ley.

By Ian Horswill


Posted on September 9, 2019

A critically endangered species, the Christmas Island blue-tailed skink, is being given its own island to help it survive and thrive.

Three hundred Christmas Island rainbow-hued blue-tailed skinks have been taken to Pulu Blan, a tiny uninhabited island in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands archipelago, in the Indian Ocean, 3,000kms northwest of Perth, Western Australia, after a hugely successful decade-long breeding program.

Read next: Latest report on Australia’s jewel, the Great Barrier Reef

Pulu Blan is 900kms from Christmas Island, the blue-tailed skinks’ usual home, where the introduction of Southeast Asian wolf snakes nearly wiped them out.

“The trial release of Christmas Island blue-tailed skinks into the wild is the culmination of ten years of work led by Parks Australia and supported by many fantastic partners,” said Australia’s Environment Minister Sussan Ley.

“Without Parks Australia’s dedicated staff on Christmas Island this beautiful species would now be extinct. Instead we have two healthy populations that have been bred in captivity – one on Christmas Island and one at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. Now we’ve taken the next step on the path to survival – a translocation into a wild setting to help safeguard the Christmas Island blue-tailed skink from extinction.”

Christmas Island National Park ranger Brendan Tiernan was part of the rescue mission in 2009 and 2010 that saved 66 skinks before the population was wiped out. It’s these skinks that formed the basis for two populations successfully bred in captivity.

“We hope to provide a safe refuge for this beautiful species outside of captivity and away from introduced predators like wolf snakes, giant centipedes, rats and cats that decimated the species on Christmas Island,” Tiernan said.

He told ABC News: “They’re quite a spectacular looking little lizard. They have obviously a bright blue shimmering tail, but the rest of their body is also quite colourful, almost rainbow in appearance … sort of a golden back and the front of the lizard, around the head, they’re almost a brassy burnt-red colour.”

Tiernan said the tiny lizard weighs about 2.5 grams and measures 10 centimetres long.

Virgin Australia Cargo General Manager Glen Moloney said Virgin has moved some unique cargo including lions, hippos, African wild dogs and Tasmanian devils, but reptiles in the main cabin is a Virgin Australia first.

“It was a delight having them onboard. They were extremely well-behaved guests and we’re pleased to support this conservation initiative,” he said.

There have been many supporters who have helped this species survive, Parks Australia said. World-leading reptile experts and scientists have provided advice throughout this project and have supported the blue-tailed skinks in their survival. The University of Western Australia and the University of Sydney have also both provided tremendous ongoing support for this project along with the National Environmental Science Programme.