A new worldwide study assessing over 10,000 reptile species found that about 2,000 reptile species, or 21 percent of all reptile species on Earth, are threatened with extinction. According to estimates by experts, there are about 12,000 species of reptiles worldwide.
Thirty percent of forest-dwelling reptiles and 14 percent of desert-dwelling reptiles are endangered, while 58 percent of all turtle species and 50 percent of all crocodile species are threatened with extinction.
Suppose all 1,829 species of turtles, crocodiles, lizards, and snakes that have been identified as vulnerable die extinct in the coming years. In that case, the world will lose a collective treasure of 15.6 billion years of evolution, according to the experts.
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The first of its kind study in history was conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with the participation of 52 researchers worldwide. The findings were published in Nature, a prominent scientific publication.
Over the past 18 years, the IUCN, an international organization whose mission includes assessing the extinction risk of various species, has been compiling a study on reptiles, inviting academia from all over the world to contribute.
The IUCN published a thorough study on amphibians in 2004, followed by publications on birds and mammals a few years later.
Each animal and plant species are graded on a five-point scale.
This list is meant to show which species are most at risk so that policymakers and other groups, like the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, can make the right decisions.
“In general, the state of reptiles in the world is bad,” says Prof. Shai Meiri of Tel Aviv University’s School of Zoology, “It’s worse than that of birds and mammals, though not as bad as that of the amphibians. And of course, there are a lot of nuances.
“We see that turtles are in a worse position than lizards and snakes, but that may be because we know more about turtles,” Prof. Meiri added. “Perhaps if we knew more about snakes, we would see that they, too, are in big trouble. Either way, the biggest threat to reptiles is the destruction of their habitats due to agriculture, deforestation, and urban development, and less because of direct hunting, which mainly affects turtles and crocodiles.
“We created detailed maps of these threats. For example, if a particular species is highly threatened in the Israel’s Arava desert, but not in the rest of its habitat range that may span the entire Arabian Peninsula, then globally it is not considered a threatened species. The new assessments, for more than 10,000 species of reptiles, will allow us to understand their conservation needs, and hopefully enable us to find far more intelligent solutions for them than we have been able to so far,” Prof. Meiri concluded.
Dr. Uri Roll adds, “This is important work that forms the initial basis for risk assessment among various reptiles around the world, but is certainly not the end of the story. We still lack a lot of information about the various risks facing reptiles. For example, climate change is expected to have significant effects on reptiles. The current assessment that has just been published does not yet include these future threats in its reptile risk assessments. We still have a lot of work ahead of us.”