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Lisa working with Christmas Island Skinks and Geckos

OK, so I know it’s not Christmas yet, but I’ve recently turned in my Zoo Keeper boots, said goodbye to my family, jumped on a plane and flown to Christmas Island to work there for a month.

Why? Well Taronga  is part of a program  to breed and make sure the rapidly declining Blue-tail Skinks and Lister’s Geckos remain on this planet. They’re native to Christmas Island , but have suffered due to changes in the habitat, and introduced predators like cats, centipedes, snakes and Yellow Crazy Ants.  Lister’s Geckos were actually thought to be extinct until they were resighted in 2009, so Christmas Island National Park started a great program, breeding the geckos and Blue-tailed Skinks in  enclosures on the island to try and turn their fate around.  The park then joined with us at Taronga and moved some of the critters to Sydney so we could also work on breeding insurance populations, and together share our knowledge, expertise and hopefully jointly make a BIG difference for these animals.

I look after the population at Taronga Zoo, so when the local reptile conservation officer went on holidays I was more than happy to spend some time on Christmas Island, get my hands dirty and get to know the local habitat of the animals I care for better. 

Even though the island is Australian territory, it took forever to get there from Sydney. When I finally arrived, the first thing that struck me was how humid it was, although it made me want to sleep after the long journey, it’s great weather for the geckos!

 

The building I work out of  is called the ‘Pink House’, there’s limited mobile reception, no Facebook and I don’t have a reliable internet connection, so it’s a big difference from the metropolis and overly connected city that is Sydney.

Flying Fish Cove

 Apart from just generally taking care of the skinks and geckos each day, I am also helping the national park team determine the sexes of their Blue-tailed Skink population. Determining the gender is important to ensure that there is a good balance of males and females in each population for breeding , however telling the difference between the two can be quite difficult, so we’ve got through five tanks and have about 10 more or so to go.

It’s hard being away from my family, but it’s amazing to be part of a program, working with the national park to safeguard the future for two amazing native reptiles!

I am planning to do more exploring of the island, so stay tuned! If you’re interested in what else is happening at Christmas Island National Park, check out the park’s blog at http://blog.parksaustralia.gov.au/category/christmas-island-national-park/

 Wednesday 26 September

I am starting to settle into Island life and over the past week I’ve done heaps of exploring. I might not have my Zoo boots on, but I certainly had on my trekking boots!

The other day I went to Winifred Beach. To get to this picturesque part of the world we jumped in the trusty 4WD for a rough and tumble 20 minute drive and then a steep 15 minute walk, it certainly tested my fitness, but I have to say it was totally worth the effort.

Winifred Beach feels like you are a million miles away from anything, it was so serene and peaceful and the best bit was that I got to watch a magnificent pod of dolphins enjoying their travels.

Skinks, Geckos and dolphins aren’t the only wildlife I’ve been lucky to see. The other afternoon I swapped my boots for flippers and went snorkelling at Flying Fish Cove. It was simply amazing, there were so many different fish in all sizes, shapes and colours. It was truly a kaleidoscope of vivid marine life colour and a feast for the eyes.

I’ve also seen a number of Blue Crabs and a gorgeous Brown Booby Owl chick, still with its soft down feathers. It looked like a large cotton wool ball with feet poking out the bottom, eyes and a beak.

Apart from the animal residents, I’ve also met a few more of the local residents thanks to the Christmas Island Women’s Association who put on a Mooncake Festival and Dragon Dance right across the road from where I’m living! Heaps of the locals joined in, the food certainly hit the spot and it was entertaining watching the local kids follow the Dragon round the streets with their paper lanterns.

Until next time,
Lisa.

Monday 1 October

My days are long here on Christmas Island, but I am seeing some amazing things. Today I took a trip out on the Parks Australia boat with Ranger Rob, and concluded with an afternoon of Territory Day festivities; tiring, but so much fun.

Waking up was met with the excitement of a Lister Gecko having hatched over night. Check out the photo of the two gecko eggs, they are so tiny. When the lizards hatch out we need to weigh them and take their measurements. All this data is really important for us to know what is normal and aids in ensuring the species has the best chance of fighting back. The young gecko that hatched out today weighed only 0.20 grams and was just 40mm long. That is about one-third the weight of a grape! It may look odd weighing the gecko in the plastic pouch, but due to their size it is our safest option.

After finishing up the morning work, heading out on the boat was fantastic. I got to see a group of Spinner Dolphins. The pod of dolphins was porpoising along, rising and falling with the waves, as they were moving through the water; such an incredible experience. Being out on the water provided me with a very different perspective on the island.

Measuring a newly hatched gecko

My eventful day continued when we came back to land with celebrations recognising Territory Day, otherwise known as “Cove Day”, an annual event on the island. Christmas Island has a vast diversity of cultures and people, including Chinese, Australian, European and Malay, all of which came together to mark the occasion. The day comprised of ocean swim races, a fishing competition, a large pipe swing and, what I found to be most amusing, was an epic raft race. The rafts were as diverse as the people, some elaborate, and others more “innovative” in their design. The night concluded with delicious Thai and Malay food, live local music and an evening sky that looked as though it was on fire. It was inspiring to say the least. Being away from my family is difficult at times, but these experiences certainly make this massive adventure all the more worthwhile.

Catch you later,
Lisa.

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