The Union Island gecko – prized for its jewel-like markings – is often seen on websites such as Instagram, where users post photographs for "likes". Picture: Instagram

London - A rare reptile has been banned from sale over fears that its dazzling appearance is fuelling the smuggling trade – because owners buy them to become popular on social media.

The Union Island gecko – prized for its jewel-like markings – is often seen on websites such as Instagram, where users post photographs for "likes".

But it can only be found on its namesake island in the Caribbean and it is thought there are just 9 960 left, as the illegal pet trade causes numbers to continue to decline.

World leaders have now voted for the species to be protected, so it cannot be commercially traded.

A fully grown Union Island gecko measures just over an inch long and weighs less than a pinch of salt.

Other species, such as the tokay and tiger geckos, are also threatened with extinction and have been given similar protection. The tokay was once common in India, southern China and south-east Asia, but the population has declined by up to 50% due to the pet trade and habitat loss.

Sri Lanka’s hump-snout lizard was also listed for protection.

China is also a popular destination because the lizards are used in traditional medicine.

Sumanth Bindumadhav, of the Humane Society International, said: "Tiger gecko species and the tokay are both extremely popular in the pet trade owing to their beautiful pattern.

"Unregulated collection of specimens from the wild is one of the major threats to their population."

Daily Mail