One in five reptiles threatened with extinction

Logging, hunting and loss of habitats have all contributed to the loss of species, say researchers

The Zhou's box turtle. Turtles are among the most threatened reptiles, a study has found. Photo: NSF

More than one in five of all reptile species around the world are threatened with extinction, according to a new study.

Researchers found that crocodiles and turtles are most at risk with half of those species threatened by hunting and habitat loss.

Turtles were particularly at risk as they are hunted for food and for use in medicines, and trapped for the pet trade.

The 1,829 species threatened with extinction include the Galapagos marine iguana, the only living lizard in the world that has adapted to marine life over 5 million years of evolution.

The once-widespread venomous King Cobra — which grows to 5 metres long and has a diet that includes other poisonous snakes — is also very close to being wiped out, said researchers.

King Cobra. Photo: NSF

It is largely associated with forests, which have been badly affected by logging and clearing for agricultural land. It has also been hunted by humans.

“Reptiles are good for people because they help control pests, such as insects and rodents,” said Stephen Blair Hedges, a professor of biodiversity at Temple University in the US state of Pennsylvania.

“They are also good for the ecosystem because they keep insect abundance in check and fill a crucial intermediate role in the food chain between insects and the predators of reptiles.”

The study took more than 15 years and included researchers representing 24 countries from six continents. They assessed more than 10,000 species and found that 31 species of reptiles were already extinct.

The researchers found that reptiles that lived in arid areas such as deserts were less at threat than those in forest areas.

The UAE has 60 species of terrestrial reptiles recorded to date within its territory, including the offshore islands.

One species endemic to the UAE, the Emirati leaf-toed gecko, is critically endangered — the most serious threat level before extinction in the wild. Two other species in the UAE are critically endangered and another six are vulnerable.

The Emirati Leaf-toed Gecko. Photo: NSF

The researchers said about a 10th of reptiles are threatened by climate change, but said that was likely to be an underestimate. They highlighted the threat to reptiles on low-lying islands as rising waters threaten to engulf them.

Conservation efforts for reptiles had been hampered by a lack of research, compared with mammals and birds. The study suggested that reptiles are more threatened than birds but less than mammals, according to the paper published in the journal Nature.

But the study’s authors said that conservation efforts for other animals had also proved to be helpful for reptiles.

Updated: April 27, 2022, 3:24 PM
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