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Urgent Support Needed: One in Five Reptile Species Face Extinction

A yacare caiman (Caiman yacare).

Reptiles, the majority of which are predators, are cold-blooded and scaly animals. Their ranks include some of the most deadly and venomous creatures on Earth, including the saltwater crocodile and spitting cobra.

Many of these fascinating creatures are feared by humans and live in difficult-to-access areas such as swamps. Compared with birds, amphibians, and mammals, very little data is available on the distribution, population size, and extinction risk of reptiles. As a result, wildlife conservationists have largely helped reptiles indirectly in the past by meeting the needs of other animals (for food and habitat for example) living in similar places.

Now, a first-of-its-kind global assessment of more than 10,000 species of reptiles (around 90% of the known total) has revealed that 21% need urgent support to prevent them from going extinct. But since reptiles are so diverse, ranging from lizards and snakes to turtles and crocodiles, the threats to the survival of each species are likely to be equally varied.

Here are five important findings the new study has revealed.

Crocodiles and turtles among most threatened

Well over half (58%) of all crocodile species and 50% of all turtles are at risk of extinction, making them the most threatened among reptiles. This is comparable to the most threatened groups of amphibians and mammals, so reptiles are not faring any better than other animals.

The biggest threats to crocodiles and turtles are hunting and the illegal wildlife trade. This trade, often to supply distant customers with pets (or luxury handbags), threatens 31% of turtles. They are also the groups of reptiles most frequently associated with wetlands, habitats that are under siege globally by the development of urban space and farmland, as well as climate change.

Conservation works

The tuatara is the only survivor of an ancient order of reptiles called the Rhynchocephalia, which roamed the Earth alongside dinosaurs around 200 million years ago.

To help you understand how isolated this species is in evolutionary terms, rodents belong to a single order which makes up 40% of mammals. Thankfully, populations of this species have stabilized, largely due to the protection they have received by law since 1895, which makes it an offense to kill individuals or their eggs or to take them from the wild.

Tuataras, which are greenish brown and grey, measure up to 80 cm (32 inches) from head to tail and have a spiny crest along their backs, were once widespread across New Zealand but became extinct on the main islands around 200 years ago – the same time that invasive rats, brought there by European colonizers, became established. Conservation efforts, such as captive breeding and targeted reintroductions, have meant that tuataras are once again breeding in the wild on New Zealand’s North Island.

Interestingly, this species has one of the longest lifespans of any reptile (more than 100 years) and a body temperature of around 10 °C (50 °F) – more than 10 °C (18 °F) lower than most reptiles.

Source: SciTechDaily