10 Most Endangered: Reptiles is about some of the most critically endangered reptile species on Earth.
The next in the 10 Most Endangered series is focused on a selection of rare reptiles that are extremely vulnerable or at threat of extinction.
The IUCN Red list has over 500 species of reptiles on its critically endangered list. It’s believed that 1 in 5 species of reptile is at risk of extinction.
Reptiles are a very diverse group with a long evolutionary history. Some remarkable species date back 300 million years, making them the longest-living in history.
They can go unnoticed in some conservation conversations. Creatures like snakes and lizards are considered less appealing than other animals, especially for fronting campaigns.
Climate change and loss of natural habitat are two big threats to reptiles. They’re also at risk from pollution and over-collection.
Reptiles are hunted for their eggs, meat, skins and shells. There are many other variable, species-specific threats too.
Compared with birds and mammals, reptiles often have restricted distributions with specific microhabitat requirements, making them particularly vulnerable to slight environmental changes.
The environment in which reptile eggs develop determines whether the embryos become male or female, so even small temperature fluctuations can dramatically alter the sex ratio of a species.
Reptile populations can be difficult to monitor because they can be reclusive and complex to track. Their populations are broadly estimated using data from surveys, sightings, and geographical distribution research.
For some species on this list their populations are unknown, or in ‘Continuing decline’ as deemed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature – IUCN.
Read on to learn about the obstacles facing these animals in 10 Most Endangered: Reptiles
1. Jamaican Rock Iguana – Population: Less than 100
The Jamaican Rock Iguana is a large vertebrate from its namesake Country of Jamaica. The iguana was thought to be extinct between 1948 and 1990 before a small colony was rediscovered.
The species faces survival challenges from introduced animals like street cats, pigs, and dogs. After the introduction of the invasive small Asian mongoose as a form of pest control, their population declined dramatically.
They now primarily inhabit a single, protected area but continue to face losses due to illegal deforestation in favour of charcoal production, road construction and mining.
2. Chinese Alligator – Population: 150
Chinese alligators are one of the smallest alligator species in the world. They have a long life-span of 50 – 70 years.
The Chinese alligator was once found throughout the eastern part of China’s great Yangtze River system but today it’s restricted to a habitat in a reserve of 433 square km.
Habitat destruction is due to the development of wetlands for agriculture, this is the primary threat to this species. Their habitat is developed in order to provide food to the ever-increasing populations in the region.
The species have been helped by government-backed legislation and captive breeding programs. These programs have proved successful in recent years, slowing their rate of decline.
3. Cuban Crocodile – Population: 5,000
The Cuban crocodile is now found in two, small areas of its native Cuba.
The Cuban crocodile was once widely distributed but is now only found in the Zapata Swamp on mainland Cuba and the Lanier Swamp on the Island of Juventud.
Despite its small size, it’s an aggressive animal and even potentially dangerous to humans.
The species is threatened by hunting and a small gene pool, which are consequences of environmental changes and habitat destruction.
Captive breeding projects are in place and showing positive signs of recovery. The creatures adapt well to life in the wild after being raised in captivity.
4. Leather Back Turtle – Population: 30, 000
The Leatherback sea turtle is the largest turtle in the world. The animal dates back, in its current form,100 million years.
They are named for their tough, rubbery skin, soft shell and lacks of scales.
Leatherbacks are highly migratory, some swimming over 10,000 miles a year. They’ve been recorded diving as deep as 4000 metres below sea level.
Leatherbacks are mostly threatened by beach-front developments, fishing, poaching and plastic pollution.
Disturbances to their nests from pets and activities like beach combing have also impacted their populations.
Habitat protection, research and education are the key conservation methods for the species.
5. Galapagos Marine Iguana – Population: 50,000
The Galapagos marine iguana is found on the famous Galapagos islands of Ecuador. They’re listed as a ‘Vulnerable’ species by the IUCN.
The curiously adapted animal is the only lizard in the world that can swim in the sea and dive as deep as 30 metres, spending up to one hour underwater.
Galapagos marine iguanas are highly threatened by cats and dogs as well as local predators.
Another issue is the progressively stronger El Niño weather system, which cyclically destroys food supplies.
The Galapagos islands are a highly preserved area and there are several protection frameworks in place that could benefit the iguana population.
6. Green Turtle – Population: 90,000
Critically endangered Green turtles are widely distributed through the oceans of the World.
The first few years of a Green turtle’s life are spent floating at sea, where they feed on plankton.
As they grow older, they move to shallow waters in bays and lagoons. This puts them at risk from entanglement in fishing nets, boats, and pollution.
They often eat floating plastic bags, mistaking them for jelly fish. They’re also hunted for trade of their shells.
There are a number of conservation programmes to protect nesting Green turtles, and also international treaties and agreements to stop hunting and trade.
7. Tarzan’s Chameleon – Population: Continuing decline
The colour-changing Tarzan chameleon is endemic to Madagascar. It was discovered in 2009 in the east town of Tarzanville.
The chameleon is identified with its green or yellow colour, although it adopts unique stripes when threatened.
Tarzan’s chameleon is at risk of extinction from deforestation of its habitat in favour of agriculture. Illegal logging and gold mining in the area create further pressures for the species.
There is no evidence of the chameleon being collected for the international pet trade.
Overseas Government grants are helping a Madagascar-based biodiversity organisation work towards conservation of the species habitat.
8. Colombian Dwarf Gecko – Population: Continuing decline
Following its discovery in 1964, the Colombian dwarf gecko was thought to be extinct until a new population was recently discovered 100 km from its original location.
The dwarf gecko is tiny and descends from other lizards dating back more than 70 million years.
Increasing levels of agriculture, livestock presence, deforestation and land-burning threaten the gecko from its remaining habitats.
Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, where the Gecko was first discovered, is particularly affected by tourists to the park’s beaches, causing pollution and other habitat disturbances.
Conservation is focused on identifying alternative locations for the species.
9. March’s Palm Pit Viper – Population: Continuing decline
March’s Palm pit viper is a venomous species of viper and is found in the mountainous regions on mainland Honduras and eastern Guatemala.
March’s Palm’s grow to more than 80 cm’s in length and are a distinct, green colour.
The species main threats are habitat loss to deforestation, the illicit pet trade and agricultural development.
The viper diet includes small amphibians like frogs, and strains on their populations are amplifying problems.
The Honduran Government still issues permits for their exportation. It’s believed that trade bans and stricter laws are needed if the population is to be saved.
10. Blue Tree Monitor Lizard – Population: Continuing decline
Blue Tree monitor lizards can be found living in jungle trees on the island of Batanta, Indonesia. They were only officially recorded as a species in 2001.
The lizard is black with scattered blue scales that form bands across its back. Their scales produce sheets of colourless cells that are structured in such a way they reflect light that then appears blue to the eye.
Their rare colouring has made them highly valued in the illegal pet trade.
Their remaining, natural habitat spans only 280 miles. Deforestation and increasing hunting mean that the species could soon become extinct in the wild.
Very little is scientifically known about wild Blue Tree Monitor Lizards and there are no dedicated conservation initiatives.
As demonstrated throughout the 10 Most Endangered series, many species of animal face the possibility of extinction. The main, reoccurring themes are deforestation and climate change. They are the two biggest threats to endangered species, as well as all life.
More urgent action is required to tackle these issues, and many things could be implemented or changed faster. A takeaway from the Covid pandemic is how quickly a global population can take action and adapt to changes when it’s deemed necessary.
Top-level engagement in climate and environmental issues should be more of a priority for our democracies and leaders. Stricter legislation, law-enforcement, education, and more stringent construction development regulations – particularly in developing countries – are key to helping to save biodiversity.
The process of decreasing global reliance on fossil fuels and non-renewable energy sources is slowly beginning. Changing how we produce and consume is happening. It’s about advancing in better ways and adopting new approaches. Increased aid for scientific research, captive breeding, and relocation programs would specifically help in the case of reptiles.
There are many ways to get involved with conservation matters. Some of the best are: advocating, donating, fundraising, sponsoring, volunteering, and responsibly consuming and travelling. Signing up to publications and organisations is a way to stay connected with environmental issues, and sharing content helps to spread awareness.
Personally, I like reptiles. It’s amazing that some of them have existed in their present forms since the days of the dinosaurs. They play important roles in our ecosystems and are some of the most colourful, enduring, and unique creatures around. Do you like any of these endangered reptiles? Let us know in the comments* or share below!
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All text ©J. Thomson, 2022