The Trouble with Reptiles

The world's lizards, turtles and snakes face grave survival threats

12-01-2000 // Mark Cheater

Deformed salamanders and frogs have made the news in recent years, but now their scaly relatives deserve our attention, scientists say. Snakes, lizards, turtles and other reptiles are in greater jeopardy than amphibians, according to a report by University of Georgia researchers.

Of about 7,200 reptile species worldwide, more than 250 are endangered or vulnerable, according to the report's authors. Among those in jeopardy are several species of sea turtles, as well as creatures such as the gopher tortoise and the American crocodile. By comparison, about 125 of the world's approximately 4,700 amphibian species are at similar risk--still a serious situation.

The causes of the reptile decline are familiar: habitat loss, introduced species, pollution, disease and harvest for the pet and food trades. But the biggest threat is that "people just aren't aware that there's a problem," says Whit Gibbons, a University of Georgia ecologist. "Current evidence suggests that these declines constitute a worldwide crisis."

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