Antananarivo, Madagascar/Arlington, Va. USA– Nearly 40% of reptiles in Madagascar are facing an elevated risk of extinction according to a study by an international team of researchers published in PLOS ONE today. The study was an assessment of the extinction risk of Madagascar's more than 370 species of native reptiles by national and international experts for The Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The research paper, ‘Extinction Risk and the Conservation of Madagascar’s Reptiles’, analysed patterns in the geographic distribution of the species and the threats facing them.
Clearance, or disturbance, of forest habitats for timber removal and expanding agriculture is the major threat to Madagascar’s snakes and lizards, including chameleons and geckos. All Malagasy species of tortoises and freshwater turtles were classed as ‘Critically Endangered’, because of escalating levels of illegal collection for international trade and human consumption.
Peter Paul van Dijk, Conservation International’s Director of tortoise and freshwater turtle conservation program, and co-chair of the IUCN SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, noted that complementary measures will be essential for some species: “While each of Madagascar's five endemic tortoises and freshwater turtles occurs at least partially inside protected areas, illegal targeted collection for the food and pet trades have seen their populations decline over the years, and trade monitoring and community engagement are key complementary measures to safeguard these species.”
Forest clearance threatens the island's snakes and lizards, whilst illegal collecting for trade and consumption heavily affects tortoises and turtles. Yet, almost of the over 370 known species have been observed recently in the wild, suggesting that few extinctions have occurred yet and that urgent and intensive conservation actions might still be able to save these unique animals.
Madagascar is renowned for its unique animals and plants, most of which occur nowhere else on Earth. Few tourists leave the island without being astonished by a glimpse of its colourful chameleons, giant snakes and otherworldly leaf-tail geckos. But the island is also a priority country for nature conservation. Most of Madagascar's wildlife, including the well-known lemurs, is affected by habitat destruction and over-collecting.
Christian Randrianantoandro, a member of the IUCN SSC Chameleon Specialist Group and author of the study says: “Overall, these results are alarming. The results highlight the plight of our reptiles. But we now can better inform national planning and interventions to reduce the rate of habitat loss and threats, especially in protected areas.”
Harison Randrianasolo, a conservation biologist from Conservation International Madagascar and a member of IUCN SSC said: "Such new information on the status of reptiles in Madagascar is crucial to evaluating the exact role of existing protected areas as well as for prioritizing funding and conservation action.”
Richard Jenkins, a representative of the IUCN Global Species Programme adds: "There are even eight threatened species that exclusively occur in sites without any current conservation management, which adds to their extinction risk,however, the study also gives some reason for optimism. In fact, no extinctions have so far been documented – with almost all known species having been recorded in recent years in the wild. And most of them occur within the protected area network.”
Miguel Vences, a Madagascar reptile specialist from the University of Braunschweig in Germany, notes: "Our results highlight the importance of Madagascar’s new protected areas, created since 2003. But we also see that threats are active even in many protected sites, calling for their improved conservation."
Christopher J. Raxworthy, a biologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York confirms this view: "If Madagascar's nature reserves are efficiently protected, we have a good chance to save the majority of the island's reptiles from extinction. However, we may be too late for the snake Pseudoxyrhopus ankafinaensis that has only been recorded once in 1880, from a site that has now been largely cleared of forest. Despite intense searches at this site and similar habitat from surrounding regions, we have not yet rediscovered this species, and hope is beginning to fade.”
Franco Andreone, an Italian conservation specialist who studied Madagascar's reptiles for over 20 years, sees major challenges but also reasons for hope ahead: "In a year when we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of The IUCN Red List, this study points to the need of combating the illegal wildlife trade and reducing habitat loss in Madagascar. But we note with optimism that the recently expanded protected area network is key to the survival of the island’s reptiles and other endemic species.”
Research — Extinction Risks and the Conservation of Madagascar's Reptiles
Authors: Jenkins RKB, Tognelli MF, Bowles P, Cox N, Brown JL, Chan L, Andreone F, Andriamazava A, Andriantsimanarilafy RR, Anjeriniaina M, Bora P, Brady LD, Hantalalaina DF, Glaw F, Griffiths RA, Hilton-Taylor C, Hoffmann M, Katariya V, Rabibisoa NH, Rafanomezantsoa J, Rakotomalala D, Rakotondravony H, Rakotondrazafy NA, Ralambonirainy J, Ramanamanjato JB, Randriamahazo H, Randrianantoandro JC, Randrianasolo HH, Randrianirina JE, Randrianizahana H, Raselimanana AP, Rasolohery A, Ratsoavina FM, Raxworthy CJ, Robsomanitrandrasana E, Rollande F, van Dijk PP, Yoder AD, Vences M (2014): Extinction Risks and the Conservation of Madagascar’s Reptiles. PLoS ONE.
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