UF Ph.D student discovers new gecko in Kenya

Jesse Borden spent his summer 8,000 miles away from Gainesville climbing trees and scouring for lizards.

Borden, a 31-year-old UF School of Natural Resources and Environment doctoral student, said he traveled with a team of researchers to the Arabuko Sokoke Forest in Kenya. For about 10 weeks, they researched the decline in native reptiles and amphibians.

During the trip, the team found two species of geckos, one of which Borden said he believes is a new species. Both were taken to the National Museums of Kenya for further examination.

It was natural for Borden to take the next step to further his research on reptiles in Alachua County woodland canopies by going to Kenya. Borden lived there as a child for 11 years.

“My upbringing there infused and inspired my love of nature and the natural world,” Borden said.

The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund said the reptiles don’t have enough recorded data to plan future conservation efforts.

The research cost $8,000. The conservation fund sponsored $5,000. Additional support was provided by the UF Center for African Studies, the Scheffers Lab and the Flory Lab, he said.

On the trip, Borden said his goal was to collect data on two reptiles, the Tana River Gecko and the Green Keel-Bellied Lizard.

Starting from the perimeter of the about 420-kilometer forest, Boren said he and his team ventured into dense trees to look for specimens.

“It was kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said.

The team climbed more than five trees per day and spent 30 minutes before a climb inspecting each tree. Borden said he used tree-climbing techniques to ascend for an hour. The team inspected 72 trees and made 144 climbs during the trip.

Borden said he and his team were unable to locate the Tana River Gecko, which hasn’t been seen in 30 years. However, they did locate a similar species.

During a night exploration, Borden said he and his team found two Green Kneel-Bellied Lizards. Finding this rare species was a fun challenge for Borden.

Joe Henry, a 31-year-old UF School of Forest Resources and Conservation doctoral student and one of Borden’s research assistants, said the forest was so thick with foliage that he had to yell directions to Borden from the ground until they made eye contact again.

The forest was loud at night from all the birds and insects, Henry said.

“The amount of diversity in what we would consider a small forest was incredible,” Henry said.