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Wild@Art Stories: Irene and the Skink

Feb 15 2013

Irene Lin’s favourite colour is blue, so between the 16-year old student and the blue-tailed western skink, it was love at first sight.

Irene is a student in the Byng Arts Mini School at Vancouver’s Lord Byng Secondary. Last year, she participated in an art project on BC’s species at risk with her art teacher Donna Webber and the Wilderness Committee.

The Grade 10 class’ art pieces were featured at the VanDusen Botanical Garden’s Wild@Art exhibition in October and November 2012, along with artwork celebrating BC’s species at risk from five other elementary and secondary schools across the province.

Irene became fascinated with the western skink and its striking blue tail and decided to produce a piece of artwork showcasing this beautiful species. “I chose the skink because the way it looks, it is so beautiful. It was sad to know they are at risk. I was fascinated by how they move.”

Learning about the Western Skink

Irene loves drawing and writing, and in her spare time she volunteers at the Vancouver Public Library. When it came to develop a piece of artwork focusing on her favourite species, the western skink, she naturally went to the public library to obtain more information about the skink.  She learned that people brought skinks back home as pets, and this is one of the threats skinks are faced with.

The elusive western skink (Plestiodon skiltonianus) is one in only two lizard species that live in British Columbia. The skink is shy and has a beautiful blue tail meant to distract predators. Skinks are mostly abundant in the Okanagan Valley.

Sadly, the southern Okanagan region is developing fast, which means the skink is increasingly at risk of losing its habitat. The species was federally designated as “Special Concern” by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) in 2002 due to its low population size and ongoing habitat loss. In BC, the western skink is blue-listed.

Skinks play a significant role in the ecosystem and are an important prey item for other species at risk such as the endangered Desert Night snake (Hypsiglena chlorophaea) and the threatened Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus). 

How is Your Day?

Irene loves patterns and in her artwork, she wanted to showcase the skink’s body shape. She chose to work with a wood panel to remind audiences of the wilderness, and she also used acrylic paint.

Irene felt it was particularly important to incorporate text in her artwork, and she asked the question: “How are you today.” She thought it would be an effective way to attract viewers’ attention on the threats western skinks face. “All the people you meet always ask How is your day.  If you take five seconds and ask a skink How is your day, if you do that then maybe the skinks would get more attention and they wouldn't be extinct,” she explains.

I Didn’t Know...

Born in Vancouver, Irene returns to China, her parents’ home country, every two years. Fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese, Irene notes that in China, she is surrounded by a lot of industrial buildings and has never really seen any promotion initiatives for wildlife conservation there. 

Before working on the Endangered Species art project with the Wilderness Committee, Irene did not know much about BC’s species at risk and was surprised by the information presented in class.  “I didn’t realize we had such a diverse wildlife,” she says.

When it came to species at risk, Irene first thought of large mammals like polar bears, but she did not consider smaller species such as western skinks. She was not aware that there are skinks in BC, and that they are at risk. “It was shocking and unnerving,” she says. “I was surprised that they would go endangered because I thought they would go under the radar because they are so small.” 

Irene had no idea that BC had no endangered species law. “I have learned more about endangered species in this art class than in any other class,” she says.

A Lasting Impression

Irene hopes that her artwork will encourage more people to think more about the skink. “They are so cool. I would be happy if people stop and consider the skink as important,” she says. “I want people who look at my artwork to have a lasting impression of the skink so that they can tell other people or do something about it. Even just knowing would be good.”

-- Text and Photos By Isabelle Groc for the Wilderness Committee --

To learn more about the western skink in BCwatch our video profile where we follow biologist and skink specialist Elizabeth Vincer in her search for the elusive skink.

Ways You can Help western skinks and BC's Species at Risk:

Take action and sign a petition to ask for endangered species legislation.

Support the Wilderness Committee's species at risk campaign: adopt a species at risk or purchase a BC species gift package.

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