Agreement reached to accelerate endangered species protection for Caribbean lizards

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida– The Center for Biological Diversity and the US Fish and Wildlife Service have reached a agreement today, that requires the Service to make endangered species decisions for eight rare species of skink – a type of lizard – by December 12, 2024. Skinks are found in Puerto Rico and the islands American virgins and are threatened with extinction from introduced predators, habitat destruction and climate change.

“Help is on the horizon for the rapidly endangered Caribbean island lizards,” said Elise Bennett, a lawyer for the Center. “Frantic development and human-introduced predators have brought these fascinating skinks to the brink of extinction. And they will face rising seas and increasing storms in the future. The protection of the Endangered Species Act is the best chance we have to save them from increasing threats to their survival. “

Today’s legal deal follows the Center’s 2020 lawsuit challenging the Service’s failure to make timely decisions on endangered species for the species. The conclusions have been awaited for more than six years.

Two of the skinks, the Minor Virgin Islands skink (Spondylurus semitaeniatus) and the bronze skink of the Virgin Islands (S. sloanii), as well as the endangered Virgin Islands tree boa (Chilabothrus granti), are supposed to occur on Great St. James. Jeffrey epstein bought the island in 2016 to build a sprawling complex with two houses, cabins and various other buildings connected by private roads.

At least part of the construction took place without the government permit. And since Epstein’s death, the fate of the island and the endangered animals that live there has been uncertain.

In addition to habitat destruction and threats from non-native predators like cats, mongooses and rats, climate change is causing sea level rise and extreme storms like deadly Category 5 hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, which damaged the limited habitat of the latter. fully island species. Because many of the Skink’s islands are small and low in elevation, they are particularly vulnerable.

Caribbean Skinks, which can be around 8 inches long, are unique among reptiles because they have a reproductive system most similar to that of humans, including a placenta and live birth. They have a cylindrical body and most have poorly defined necks which, with their sinuous movements and smooth bronze-colored skin, make them look like stocky snakes with legs.

Scientists identified skinks as separate species in a 2012 to study. All are considered critically endangered or endangered according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, and they are absent or extremely rare in most of their former ranges. .

The Center filed a petition to protect skinks in 2014 with Dr. Renata Platenberg, an ecologist specializing in Caribbean reptiles.

Three of the species included in today’s advisory are found in the territory of Puerto Rico: the Culebra Skink (Culebra and the adjacent islet of Culebrita), the Mona Skink (Mona Island) and the Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico and several of its satellite islands). The other five are found in the Virgin Islands: the great skink of St. Croix (St. Croix and its satellite Green Cay), the lesser skink of St. Croix (St. Croix), the great skink of the Virgin Islands (St. Jean and Saint-Thomas). ), the bronze Virgin Islands skink (Saint Thomas and several of its islets, several British Virgin Islands) and the Minor Virgin Islands skink (Saint Thomas and two adjacent islets, several British Virgin Islands).

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