The Trump administration has violated the law by failing to protect endangered Caribbean lizards, including two rare species believed to live on Jeffrey Epstein’s island, an environmental group charged Tuesday.
The Center for Biological Diversity said that the lesser Virgin Islands skink and Virgin Islands bronze skink are believed to live on Great St. James, which Epstein purchased in 2016 for more than $20 million. By law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to conduct further analysis to see if the two species, along with six other types of rare skinks found in the Caribbean, warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, the group said.
That analysis is overdue by more than five years, the environmental group wrote, formally notifying the government it would file a lawsuit in 60 days.
“Delay means death for these lizards, so the Trump administration has to act,” said Elise Bennett, a Center attorney dedicated to protecting rare reptiles and amphibians. “Skinks are being devoured by human-introduced rats and feral cats, obliterated by reckless development, and drowned by extreme storms fueled by climate change. They need Endangered Species Act protection now, not in 10 years.”
The endangered Virgin Islands tree boa is also believed to live on Great St. James, the advocacy group wrote. Epstein bought Great St. James to prevent prying eyes from using the island as an outpost to watch neighboring Little St. James island, which served as the sex offender’s primary residence since 1998, the Virgin Islands District Attorney claims in a lawsuit.
“Because of Epstein’s enormous wealth, these fines had little effect in curbing or stopping the Epstein Enterprise’s unlawful conduct,” the DA wrote in a complaint.
“The extent of the potential environmental damage is unknown at this time as the illegal construction has not been removed or remediated.”
The Center for Biological Diversity’s letter in anticipation of a lawsuit says the Trump administration dragged its feet on protecting the Great St. James skins, as well as other skinks native to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. There are more than 1,500 types of skinks, making it the most diverse family of lizards. Most have tails that can detach if grabbed by a predator and then be regenerated.