1st June 2015
Founding Grace’s Rest was one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life. If you had asked me in 2012 where I saw myself being in 2013 I can guarantee you that being in charge of my own rescue centre would not have been my answer! I would have never thought I could do something like this until a little gecko called Grace change my life forever.
Grace is a Crested Gecko (Rhacodactylus ciliates), also known as Eyelash Geckos due to their fleshy protrusions above their eyes that look like luscious lashes. This strictly nocturnal species was presumed extinct in the wild and upon it’s rediscovery in the early 1990’s it was introduced to the pet trade in 1994. Up to 50% of their wild habitat is considered to be at risk and they are illegally harvested for the black market pet trade in accessible parts of their jungle home on New Caledonia. Because of this exploitation, invasion by non-native species, wildfires, predation by rodents and habitat clearance for agriculture they are designated as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). No real population data exists; the situation could be must more dire than we realise.
Crested Geckos are very popular in the pet trade; Grace was just one of the unfortunate many who fell victim to this success.
I get a call one day just before Easter 2013, it’s my Mum. She has seen a gecko for sale on social media that she thinks is in a bad way. She wants to know that if she were to go and fetch her if I would look after her. I explained that this was a nationwide issue, that the tide of unwanted exotic pets seems unstoppable and never ending. I know that I wanted to help and said that I would take the poor creature but I had no idea that this would be the first step on a life changing journey.
We went together to fetch her and what a sorry sight she was. Her enclosure was tiny and filthy, littered with her own faeces and dead crickets. No water. No light. No heat. She was curled up in a rear corner behind the only piece of cage furniture, a piece of bark leaning again the back wall. She was pale and freezing cold. Her tail was missing, never to regrow; a survival strategy of many lizards being to “drop” their tail if caught or threatened (the predator gets a snack and the gecko gets to live another day).
The story was that she had been bought for a six year old child who had rapidly lost interest in her. Apparently she didn’t move around much or do anything of note, supposedly being a very shy creature. Her cage was positioned in a busy section of the living room that linked into the kitchen. The television and stereo system were nearby, undoubtedly causing the poor creature even more stress from the flickering screen, sounds and vibrations. The living room lights would also be disturbing her natural sleep-waking cycle.
She could not stay there.
I held her in my hand and gently covered her with the other, giving her my warmth. To the amazement of her keeper she then began to turn a healthier colour and to move around. I explained that this wasn’t a sudden burst of confidence, rather a cold-blooded creature getting the heat it needed to be mobile.
And thus this vulnerable little creature was committed to my care. It seemed only fitting that Mum should name her as she had seen her plight and prompted her rescue. She decided upon Grace, because her long eyelashes make her look like a perfect little lady.
Grace’s Rest was born soon after, named after the little gecko who can finally rest easy in our care, on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds. The Prince’s Trust provided guidance in the initial founding stages and beyond, to whom I am very grateful. Now the operation has expanded beyond what I could have imagined in the form of our move to rural North Warwickshire, near Coventry, at the beginning of May 2015.
From our new home we continue to rescue, rehabilitate and rehome exotic animals in crisis. These poor creatures come to us in varying states of health and from a multitude of different backgrounds and situations.
All are welcome here – reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and exotic mammals.
Over fifteen years of professional experience and five years of dedicated academic study go into running this strictly non-profit rescue service.
In our first two years of operation we have served dozens of clients and rescued hundreds of animals, some from appalling conditions. I cannot deny that at times, the work is heart-breaking and backbreaking in equal measure. But, it is worth every bit of it for the good times and the happy endings that do come along.
The rescue operation has always been strictly non-profit and relies on fundraising and donations in order to survive. I dearly hope that in the future it will become a registered charity once it ticks all the boxes from the Charity Commission’s point of view that is; namely, reaching a turnover of £5000. We’re still a way off but we’re getting there! I’ve lost count of the miles I have travelled, the letters I have written and the phone calls I have made in pursuit of support and donations. In fact, we’re always in need of volunteer fundraisers if anyone fancies giving it a go!
Who knows what the future will hold but I have big plans for Grace’s Rest and I hope that you will be there with us!
Supported by Ladbrook Insurance, a specialist animal charity insurance provider.
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Meet the Owner-Operator, Clare Barnard BSc.(Hons)
Clare is a research scientist and PhD candidate at the University of Lincoln where she is studying wildlife conservation and the direct impact of the exotic pet trade on wild animal populations. She will be working from the Laboratory of Evolutionary Ecology of Adaptations. Clare has also been honoured to become part of the Global Amphibian Biodiversity research team.
Clare has almost 20 years professional experience in the husbandry of exotic animals a specialism in the genetics of British herpetofauna. She has worked with wild Adders (Vipera berus) and endangered Natterjack Toads (Epidalea calamita) under Natural England license conditions. Clare has worked as a zookeeper and within private collections including her own. She lives in rural North Warwickshire, on-site at Grace's Rest, with a whole host of animals!