leatherback sea turtle making its way across a beach
leatherback sea turtle making its way across a beach

Fifteen-Year Project Quantifies Threat to Reptiles

The study estimates that one-fifth of reptile species worldwide are at risk of extinction.

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Shawna Williams

Shawna joined The Scientist in 2017 and is now a senior editor and news director. She holds a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Colorado College and a graduate certificate and science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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Apr 28, 2022

ABOVE: The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is one of many reptile species at risk of extinction. © iStock.com, rawlinson_photography

A project involving hundreds of experts considering threats to reptile species one by one has concluded that 21 percent of them are at risk of extinction. While factors such as climate change and pollution play a role in threatening some species, habitat loss is the biggest factor overall, the researchers say. Their results appeared yesterday (April 27) in Nature

The finding that at least 1,829 out of 10,196 known reptile species are at risk places the group in a better position than the IUCN Red List estimates for mammals (26 percent at risk) and amphibians (41 percent at risk). Some of the better-known species considered to be threatened include the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), and multiple kinds of sea turtles. 

See “Risk of Extinction Is Greatest for Large Herbivores: Study” 

The study, which began in 2004, involved multiple workshops where experts gathered to assess species’ situations one by one, according to The New York Times. The findings from these workshops were then reviewed by an outside expert and by IUCN Red List staff members.  

“There’s no rocket science in protecting reptiles, we have all the tools we need,” study coauthor Bruce Young of the nonprofit NatureServe tells the Times. “Reduce tropical deforestation, control illegal trade, improve productivity in agriculture so we don’t have to expand our agricultural areas. All that stuff will help reptiles, just as it will help many, many, many other species.” 

“Global collaboration and commitment are a must if we are to prevent an extinction catastrophe,” says study coauthor Neil Cox, manager of the Biodiversity Assessment Unit, in remarks quoted by Reuters.