1 in 5 reptiles in danger of extinction

More than 1 in 5 reptile species worldwide, including the ferocious king cobra, are threatened with extinction, according to a new comprehensive assessment of thousands of species published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Of the 10,196 reptile species analyzed, 21% were classified as endangered, critically endangered, or vulnerable to extinction, including the iconic hooded snakes of South and Southeast Asia.

“This work is a very significant achievement,” said Stuart Pimm, an ecologist at Duke University, who was not involved in the study. “It adds to our knowledge of where threatened species are and where we need to work to protect them.”

Similar assessments had been made earlier for mammals, birds and amphibians, informing government decisions about how to draw national park boundaries and allocate environmental funds.

Work on the reptile study, involving nearly 1,000 scientists and 52 co-authors, began in 2005. The project was slowed by fundraising challenges, said co-author Bruce Young, a zoologist with the nonprofit scientific organization NatureServe.

“There is much more focus on furrier, featherier vertebrate species for conservation,” Young said, referring to the perceived charisma gap. But reptiles are also fascinating and essential to ecosystems, she said.

Challenges facing iguanas and sea turtles

The Galapagos marine iguana, the world’s only lizard adapted to marine life, is classified as “vulnerable” to extinction, said co-author Blair Hedges, a biologist at Temple University in Philadelphia. It took five million years for the lizard to adapt to foraging in the sea, he said, lamenting “how much evolutionary history can be lost if this single species” goes extinct.

A dead green sea turtle washes up on the beach at the Khor Kalba Conservation Reserve, in the city of Kalba, on the east coast of the United Arab Emirates, on February 1, 2022. Six of the world’s species of sea turtles are threatened. The seventh is likely in trouble as well, but scientists lack the data to make a classification. (Kamran Jebreili/The Associated Press)

Six of the world’s sea turtle species are threatened. The seventh is likely in trouble as well, but scientists lack the data to make a classification.

Around the world, the greatest threat to reptile life is habitat destruction. Hunting, invasive species and climate change also pose threats, said co-author Neil Cox, manager of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s biodiversity assessment unit.

Reptiles that live in forested areas, such as king cobras, are more likely to be in danger of extinction than desert dwellers, in part because forests face greater human disturbance, the study found.

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