Bad news for crocodiles, turtles and their company: About one in five species of reptiles worldwide is critically endangered. This is the result of a year-long international scientific project.
It took more than 15 years for nearly 1,000 experts from around the world to gather the data needed to map the threat to reptile species around the world and analyze the possible causes. The results have now been published in a comprehensive report in the scientific journal Nature. Fully endangered reptile species can be found on the IUCN Red List.
1800 species of reptiles are critically endangered
The report analyzed how threatened all of the more than 10,000 known species of reptiles are and why. The result: worldwide, more than 1,800 species of reptiles are widely threatened. That’s twice the number of bird species found in the United States and Canada, says Bruce Young, chief zoologist at the Nature Conservancy in North America. He was instrumental in publishing.
Half of all crocodiles and more than half of turtles are endangered – as are about three out of four species of iguana. The situation is similar to snakes from the shield-tail family. More than 30 species of reptiles have already become extinct, and this is likely for another 40 because no specimen has been seen for such a long time. Regions with significant populations of threatened reptiles include Southeast Asia, West Africa, northern Madagascar, the northern Andes, and the Caribbean.
Invasive species threaten local reptiles
Reptiles suffer what other terrestrial vertebrates do as well: agriculture, settlements, and demining destroy their habitats. In addition, the animals are threatened by introduced invasive species – such as lizards of the skeletal family of the Caribbean.
Stephen Blair Hedges, a reptile researcher at Temple University in Philadelphia, USA, explains that some are already extinct, and others are on the verge of extinction. The threat comes from the introduction of a mammal, the ferret. It was introduced to the islands in the 19th century to control rat populations. It did not go well, but the predator wiped out many diurnal reptiles, including the skunk.
Humans are also a threat to reptiles
Man hunts other reptiles himself: turtles are hunted in order to eat them. The bark of some species is researched in traditional Asian medicine. Many turtles are sold as pets. Crocodiles or king cobras are also killed because people are afraid of them.
In the long term, climate change is also likely to become an increasingly serious threat to reptiles – for example when islands are submerged.
Reptiles maintain balance in the ecosystem
Things look bad for many reptiles, despite their importance to humans and ecosystems. Stephen Blair Hedges explains that these substances help control pests such as insects and rodents, reduce insect populations, and they eat themselves, and are therefore an important part of the food chain.
If reptiles died, we would also lose an important piece of evolutionary history. An example is the marine iguana in the Galapagos Islands. It is the only lizard that feeds in the sea and grazes algae.
Reptiles also benefit from the protection of mammals
After all, researchers also have good news. In fact, over the past few decades, there have been numerous efforts to protect the most popular animals such as mammals and birds. He knew a lot about putting them at risk. Reptiles have also benefited from this, as Bruce Young reports:
However, measures are also needed to specifically protect endangered reptiles. The researchers hope the data collected will help — by showing where reptiles urgently need help.