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Reptiles In The Philippines  — Toko Gecko

My first night in Cebu City, in the earliest visit I made to my parents’ house, was serenaded by a loud call which I heard as : “football, football!”.  I listened to the nightbird’s call, above the hum of the aircon, until I feel asleep.

The next day, at the breakfast table, I asked my father the name of the nightbird  After a few blank looks, I mimicked its call.  I was met with laughter.  My mother laughed so hard that tears rolled down her face.  After everyone had settled down, my father told me that they had an outside resident lizard called “toko”.  The loud call was from that lizard and not a nightbird.

Toko Gecko Philippines

Toko photograph by Richard Ling

The lizard is officially known as “Tokay Gecko”, a nocturnal arboreal lizard which is found in India, Bangladesh, Philippines, Indonesia, New Guinea, and other parts of Southeast Asia.  Although its habitat are rain forest trees and cliffs, it adapts to its urban environment in the city as well.  They are mostly found in the eaves of buildings and houses.  In the Philippines, the toko is valued as it consumes dangerous insects such as scorpions, centipedes, and mosquitoes.

It is a beautiful lizard with a bluish/grey body, with all-over spots from light yellow to bright red. In proportion to its body, the head and eyes are rather large. It has an endearing appearance, but do not think of this lizard as a pet for it is wild. The eyes are bright green with brown or may be of bright yellow/orange.  The size of the toko varies from 11-15 inches for males and 7-11 inches for females.  They have been known to live over 18 years in captivity and 7-10 years in the wild.

The toko is a solitary lizard and will rarely come down from its hiding place.  The males are territorial and will make calls for females.  The females are generally drab compared to the males. The females will normally lay two grey eggs which are adhered to a cranny of the hiding place.

The toko is a gecko and may be displayed as an ornamental animal, for experienced reptile owners only. I prefer for this animal to be left in the wild.  Some individuals describe the toko as the “pit bull” of the gecko world as it bites!  I tried to persuade the farm hands in Cagayan de Oro (my parents’ country home) to extract one from a coconut tree, so that I could see it close-up.  I heard his calls the night before.  The farm hands gravely looked at me and said  “are you sure that you want us to catch one maam?”  I saw the hesitant look in their faces and some fear, so I just said, “no, I’ve changed my mind about the toko, as the coconut tree is too high.” One must allow an honorable means of “saving face” for a Filipino’s refusal.

Toko Gecko — Exotic Pets In The Philippines

I asked my father why his farm hands were scared of a little lizard.  Stifling his laughter, he said that the toko is a fierce fighter and will hang on, to death, to whatever it is attached to.  To forceably extract the lizard from its perch, will harm the animal.  It doesn’t let go when it bites.  If bitten, one recommendation is to place a dab of vinegar on the toko’s nose; it should let go.  The bite however, may get infected.  The best way to remove the toko from its hiding place is to build a small fire at the base of the coconut tree.  Stifling the fire with damp leaves will cause smoke to rise to the fronds.  Eventually, the toko will climb down on his own.  However, it can be made vulnerable to birds, cats, and other animals.  One should leave this wonderful animal alone.

I made myself content by studying the toko via the internet. I find this lizard to be most fascinating.  I fondly think of the toko as a funny looking lizard, in polka dots, who sings his own song. Every night, I hear him sing and I am home.

Update Added 07/14/11

Philippines Environment Secretary Ramon Paje stated it very clearly on Tuesday saying “The law expressly provides that the collection, trade or transport of geckos without appropriate permits… is punishable by imprisonment of up to four years and a fine of up to 300,000 pesos (about $7,000).

The 10-ounce reptiles are considered a Asian cure-all for everything from cancers to AIDS to asthma and because some nations have already wiped out their gecko population, they look to the Philippines as a supplier.

Last week, Philippines Health Secretary Enrique Ona in an attempt to squash the notion of curative powers of the gecko said, “there is no scientific finding that geckos, locally known as “tuko”, can cure cancer, AIDS or other diseases as claimed by people who are spreading its supposed healing power”.

Secretary Paje said that the lizards sell for 50,000 pesos a piece in a wanting Asian market. The high price tag has prompted even children to skip classes to hunt for these types of reptiles.

From The Examiner

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Filed under: Filipino CultureLiving In The Philippines

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