A new study by the Zoological Society of London has found that 19% — nearly one in five — of the world’s 10,000 species of reptiles are threatened with extinction. The study, which has been printed in the journal Biological Conservation, was carried out by more than 200 experts who assessed the risk of extinction of 1,500 reptiles selected at random from around the globe.
The primary author of the paper, Monika Bohm, explained to the Zoological Society: “reptiles are often associated with extreme habitats and tough environmental conditions, so it is easy to assume that they will be fine in our changing world.” However, that’s far from the truth: “Many species are very high specialized in terms of habitat use and the climatic conditions they require for day to day functioning,” Bohm said. “This makes them particularly sensitive to environmental changes.” The paper highlights three critically endangered species in its research, including the jungle runner lizard Ameiva vittata, which has only ever been spotted in the Cochabamba region of the Bolivian jungle — an area under threat from the growth of agriculture and logging. The two most recent searches for the species have been unsuccessful, writes the study. Meanwhile in Haiti, six of the nine species of Anolis lizard in the country risk extinction due to increased deforestation.
Also at risk are freshwater turtles, with 50% of all species at risk of extinction from hunting; turtle parts are in high demand as ingredients in traditional medicine. According to the study 30% of freshwater reptile species are also in danger of completely disappearing.
Reptiles have a long evolutionary history: certain orders, such as snakes, lizards, amphisbaenians (worm lizards), crocodiles and tuataras first appeared on earth around 300 million years ago. They are an important part of many ecosystems, and play roles as both predator and prey. “This is a very important step towards assessing the conservation status of reptiles globally,” Philip Bowles from the IUCN Species Survival Commission said in response to the study. “Tackling the identified threats, which include habitat loss and harvesting, are key conservation priorities in order to reverse declines in these reptiles.”