– Nineteen percent of the world’s reptiles
are estimated to be threatened with extinction, states a paper published today
by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in conjunction with experts from the
IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC).
The study, printed in the journal of Biological Conservation, is the first of
its kind summarising the global conservation status of reptiles. More than 200
world renowned experts assessed the extinction risk of 1,500 randomly selected
reptiles from across the globe.
Out of the 19% of reptiles threatened with extinction, 12% classified as
Critically Endangered, 41% Endangered and 47% Vulnerable.
"This is a very important step towards assessing the conservation status of
reptiles globally,” says Philip Bowles, Coordinator of the Snake and
Lizard Red List Authority of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. “The
findings sound alarm bells about the state of these species and the growing
threats that they face. Tackling the identified threats, which include habitat
loss and over-harvesting, are key conservation priorities in order to reverse
the declines in these reptiles.”
Three Critically Endangered species were highlighted as possibly extinct. One
of these, a jungle runner lizardAmeiva vittata, has only ever been recorded in
one part of Bolivia. Levels of threat remain particularly high in tropical
regions, mainly as a result of habitat conversion for agriculture and logging.
With the lizard’s habitat virtually destroyed, two recent searches for the
species have been unsuccessful.
“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,” says Dr Monika Böhm, lead author on the
paper.“However, many species are very highly
specialised in terms of habitat use and the climatic conditions they require for
day to day functioning. This makes them particularly sensitive to environmental
Extinction risk is not evenly spread throughout this highly diverse group:
freshwater turtles are at particularly high risk, mirroring greater levels of
threat in freshwater biodiversity around the world. Overall, the study estimated
30% of freshwater reptiles to be close to extinction, a percentage which rises
to 50% when considering freshwater turtles alone, as they are also affected by
national and international trade.
Although threat remains lower in terrestrial reptiles, the often restricted
ranges, specific biological and environmental requirements, and low mobility
make them particularly susceptible to human pressures. In Haiti, six of the nine
species of Anolis lizard included in the study have an elevated risk of
extinction, due to extensive deforestation affecting the country.
Collectively referred to as ‘reptiles’, snakes, lizards, amphisbaenians (also
known as worm lizards), crocodiles, turtles, tortoises and tuataras –
lizard-like reptiles endemic to New Zealand – have had a long and complex
history, having first appeared on the planet around 300 million years ago. They
play a number of vital roles in the proper functioning of the world’s
ecosystems, as predator as well as prey.
“Gaps in knowledge and shortcomings in effective conservation actions need to
be addressed to ensure that reptiles continue to thrive around the world,” says
Dr Ben Collen, Head of ZSL’s Indicators and Assessment Unit.
“These findings provide a shortcut to allow important conservation decisions to
be made as soon as possible and firmly place reptiles on the conservation
Information from this study will form part of the global assessment of
reptiles which is being undertaken by IUCN.
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Turtles and Tortoises
Turtles are reptiles that are characterised by a bony
shell which incorporates their ribs and acts as a shield. Most turtles spend
large amounts of their time underwater, yet breathe air, and must surface
regularly to refill their lungs. The largest living chelonian is the Leatherback
Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), which in exceptional cases can grow to a
shell length of two meters (6.6 ft) and can reach a weight of over 900 kg (2,000
lb). Freshwater turtles are generally smaller, but in the case of the largest
species, the Southeast Asian Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle (Chitra chitra) some
can grow to a carapace length of 1.4 meters (4.7ft) and over 250 kg body weight
Tortoises are a family of land-dwelling turtles, and are
protected by their usually highly domed shell. The carapace (the top part of the
shell), and the plastron (the underside of the shell) are connected by a bridge.
Adult tortoises can vary in size from 11 centimetres to a little over one meter.
They are generally reclusive animals.
Crocodiles are genetically closer to birds than to other
reptiles. There are around 25 species found in Americas, Asia, Africa and
Australia. The largest extant reptile of all is the saltwater
The Tuatara is a reptile endemic to New Zealand which,
though it resembles most lizards, is actually part of a distinct lineage,
orderRhynchocephalia. The Tuatara is the only surviving member of its order,
which flourished around 200 million years ago. There were previously thought to
be two living species of tuatara, but recent evidence suggests only a single
species, Sphenodon punctatus, exists. The recent discovery of a Tuatara
hatchling on the mainland indicates attempts to re-establish a breeding
population on the New Zealand mainland have had some success. The total
population of tuatara of all species and subspecies is estimated to be greater
than 60,000, but less than 100,000.
Amphisbaenia (called amphisbaenians or worm lizards) are a usually legless
suborder of squamates closely related tolizards and snakes, comprising more than
150 species. They are very poorly understood, due to their burrowing lifestyle
and general rarity. Most species are found in Africa and South America, with a
few in other parts of the world.
Lizards are a widespread group
of squamate reptiles, with more than 5,600 species, ranging across all
continents except Antarctica, as well as most oceanic island chains. Lizards
typically have feet and external ears, while snakes lack both of these
There are over 3,000 species of snakes ranging as far northward as the
Arctic Circle in Scandinavia and southward through Australia. Snakes can be
found on every continent (with the exception of Antarctica), in the sea, and as
high as 16,000 feet (4,900 m) in the Himalayan Mountains of Asia.
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IUCN onFacebook; IUCN on Twitter About the Species Survival
The Species Survival Commission (SSC) is the largest of
IUCN’s six volunteer commissions with a global membership of around 8,000
experts. SSC advises IUCN and its members on the wide range of technical and
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agreements dealing with biodiversity conservation. The IUCN Red
List of Threatened Species™
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™
(or The IUCN Red List) is the world’s most comprehensive information source on
the global conservation status of plant and animal species. It is based on an
objective system for assessing the risk of extinction of a species should no
conservation action be taken.
Species are assigned to one of eight
categories of threat based on whether they meet criteria linked to population
trend, population size and structure and geographic range. Species listed as
Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable are collectively described as
The IUCN Red List is not just a register of names and
associated threat categories. It is a rich compendium of information on the
threats to the species, their ecological requirements, where they live, and
information on conservation actions that can be used to reduce or prevent
The IUCN Red List is a joint effort between IUCN and its
Species Survival Commission, working with its Red List partners BirdLife
International; Botanic Gardens Conservation International; Conservation
International; Microsoft, NatureServe; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Sapienza
University of Rome; Texas A&M University; Wildscreen; and Zoological Society
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@amazingspecies About the Zoological Society of London
Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an
international scientific, conservation and educational charity: the key role is
the conservation of animals and their habitats. The Society runs ZSL London Zoo
and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research at the Institute of
Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation in over 50 countries