John Lyakurwa is a herpetologist: his job is studying reptiles and



Meet the Electric Blue Gecko expert


In a country with fewer than five reptile and amphibian specialists, John Lyakurwa matters. Based in the department of zoology and wildlife conservation at the University of Dar es Salaam, John is a herpetologist: his job is studying reptiles and amphibians. And his work is hugely significant for Tanzania’s native Electric Blue Gecko (EBG), which is found nowhere else in the wild. Aside from Charles Kilawe, a botanist, John is the only person creating conservation action plans for the EBG’s small population of around 150,000.

Reptile and amphibian specialists, John Lyakurwa
John Lyakurwa

His interest grew after he came across the EBG in the wild for the first time while camping in Kimboza in 2012. He also saw large parts of the forest that had been burned by bush fires, including screw pines – the only tree the EBG lives in. ‘The spectacular colours of males caught my attention,’ he says. But learning about the small area it was found in, and that screw pines were its only home, John began to worry about the EBG’s survival. John went on to train alongside prominent herpetologists in Tanzania’s richly biodiverse Eastern Arc Mountains. In 2019, after applying to the Zoological Society of London’s EDGE Fellowship programme, he won a grant to undertake a two-year project on the EBG. He spent the following two years gathering data on this evolutionarily distinct and endangered lizard’s distribution and current population. The project – which John hopes will be used as the basis for a future management plan for the EBGs’ wild habitats – incorporates indigenous knowledge.

A male electric blue gecko, resting on a leaf
credit: Rikki Gumbs

John collaborated with indigenous people, some ex-EBG collectors, who worked as his field assistants. They helped him discover new places where the gecko lives and reach the trickiest sites. ‘Villagers have also been engaged in finding solutions for the invasive plant species and on how to deal with fire incidents,’ he says. Currently, it’s not poaching for the pet trade but fire that is this rare lizard’s main threat. And while John can’t guess the outcome for it, especially given unpredictable weather patterns, there is hope. EBG numbers are up from 2012. Its future is still a work in progress…

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