As poaching of New Zealand green geckos has increased, higher legal protection for the brightly coloured natives is being sought at an international conference on the trade in endangered species.

A proposal appealing for the increased protection of nine species of gecko, including Otago Peninsula's jewelled gecko, is before the 16th conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand.

The geckos are already listed as an appendix III species but New Zealand's proposal to the conference said the listing had not provided the level of protection desired because poaching had increased in recent years, apparently driven by demand from overseas reptile collectors.

At least 16 geckos from Otago Peninsula were among 24 recovered in attempted smuggling operations since 2010, and since 2009 seven people had been successfully prosecuted for smuggling geckos or skinks, the report said.


So it was proposed the geckos be listed as an appendix II species which gave authorities, especially in other CITES signatory countries, greater powers to determine whether or not a specimen was obtained illegally or bred in captivity.

''These increased international controls will allow greater enforcement action, thus providing stronger deterrents to wildlife criminals.''

Illegal harvesting of the species constituted a serious threat to their long-term survival in the wild, it said.

Recent poaching operations had adverse effects on populations and had led to population declines of up to 95 per cent, such as in the Otago Peninsula case.

"Recent evidence and anecdotal information have shown New Zealand gecko species appearing on the international pet market at numbers far exceeding the breeding capacity of the international captive population."

Department of Conservation Coastal Otago manager Robin Thomas said the proposal was very important and significant.

''We are very hopeful the amendment will go through as it will strengthen the legal situation.''