A previously unidentified species of gecko has been discovered at the Phnom Preah Kuhear Luong (luong caves) in Kampot province’s Banteay Meas district. The discovery is the result of a two-year research project, according to the Ministry of Environment.

The study was conducted by specialists from the ministry, in collaboration with the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Wild Earth Allies and the IUCN, as well as experts from La Sierra University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in the US. 

This new species has been named the "royal cave bent-toed gecko". Its scientific name is Cyrtodactylus regicavernicolus.

Chhin Sophea, from the ministry’s Department of Biodiversity at the General Department of Policy and Strategy, was one of the researchers.

He said the study was conducted at night in the luong caves and surrounding areas, as well as the Phnom Totong-Phnom Touch Natural Heritage Area in Dang Tong and Banteay Meas districts, in 2021 and 2021.

 “To prove that it is a new species, experts have examined and analysed its morphology, internal and genetic resources and done a statistical analysis which compared the species to samples of 12 similar types from Cambodia and the neighbouring countries,” said a statement from the ministry.

The royal cave bent-toed gecko is found only in the limestone caves of the Phnom Preah Kuhear Luong natural heritage area. Adult specimens grow to around 80mm in length, with females slightly larger than males. The geckos may spend the day as deep as 20m in the cave, emerging to the cave mouth and night to feed.

The new geckos are one of two limestone-cave dwelling geckos which are found only in the Kingdom. Environment ministry

It is the third distinct livestone-cave dwelling species of gecko to be discovered in the region following C. laangensis, which was identified in Cambodia, and C. disjunctus, discovered in Thailand. 

The new species is the 10th bent-toed gecko species to be identified in Cambodia and the 360th around the world. 

Khvay Atiya, ministry spokesman, described how the discovery demonstrates the Kingdom’s biodiversity and unique natural resources, which are being carefully protected and conserved by the Royal Government.

The recent identification of other rare and endangered species in Cambodia's forests demonstrates the need for careful study and documentation, he said.

In January 2021, the government listed the 25-hectare Phnom Preah Kuhear Luong site as a protected natural heritage area.

Atiya explained that the protected area was established to protect its unique ecosystem for the benefit of all generations. It protects the beauty of the natural landscape and the natural value ​​of the area for sightseeing, education, and scientific research, in the belief that these activities do not pose a threat to the natural environment or local culture.

Por Vy, deputy district governor, was excited about the discovery. He noted that in addition to the newly-identified species, the area is home to many monkeys, birds and other species.

“The discovery of the new species of gecko is really good. They are extremely rare, so we must cooperate to preserve them for future generations. Sometimes, we do not know all of the species that are living in any one place,” he said.