Rare snakes, lizards and turtles face a fight for survival according to a report from the Zoological Society of London and the IUCN Species Survival Commission.
It has been estimated that 19% of the world’s reptiles are threatened with extinction.
The claim is made in a paper published last week by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in conjunction with experts from the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC).
Printed in the journal Biological Conservation, more than 200 world renowned experts worked on the study, which assessed the extinction risk of 1,500 randomly selected reptiles from across the globe.
Out of the estimated 19% of reptiles threatened with extinction, 12% classified as critically endangered, 41% endangered and 47% were classed as vulnerable.
Three critically endangered species were also highlighted as possibly extinct. One of these, a jungle runner lizard Ameiva 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.
Dr Monika Böhm, lead author on the paper, said: “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, 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 changes.”
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, this study estimated 30% of freshwater reptiles to be close to extinction, which rises to 50% when considering freshwater turtles alone, as they are also affected by national and international trade.
ZSL and IUCN will continue to work with collaborating organisations to ensure reptiles are considered in conservation planning alongside more charismatic mammal species.