Study finds that 21% of the world’s reptiles are threatened with extinction – including the king cobra

Even the king cobra is “vulnerable”. More than 1 in 5 reptile species worldwide are threatened with extinction, according to a new comprehensive assessment of thousands of species published in the journal Nature.

Of the 10,196 reptile species analyzed, 21% percent 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 – it increases our knowledge of where endangered species are and where we must work to protect them,” said Duke University ecologist Stuart Pimm, who was not involved in the study.

A man showing off his King Cobra pets
A man shows off his pets, the wild King Cobra in Mentulik village, Kampar, Riau, Indonesia, April 1, 2017.

Jefta Images/Future publication via Getty Images


Similar previous assessments have been carried out for mammals, birds and amphibians, informing government decisions on how to delineate national park boundaries and allocate environmental funds.

Work on the reptile study — which involved 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 at the nonprofit science organization NatureServe.

“Reptiles, for a lot of people, aren’t charismatic. And there’s been a lot more focus on some of the hairier or more feathered vertebrate species for conservation,” Young said.

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. It took 5 million years for the lizard to adapt to hunting in the sea, he said, lamenting “how much evolutionary history could be lost if this one species” goes extinct.

Six of the world’s sea turtle species are threatened. The seventh is probably also in trouble, but scientists don’t have the data to make a classification.

Worldwide, the greatest threat to reptile life is habitat destruction. hunting, invasive species and of Climate Change also pose threats, said co-author Neil Cox, manager of the biodiversity assessment unit at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Reptiles that live in forested areas, like the king cobra, are more likely to be endangered than desert dwellers, in part because forests face greater human disturbance, the study found.

The king cobra, the world’s largest venomous snake, is “very close to extinction,” Cox told a news conference about the research.

“It’s a really iconic species in Asia and it’s a shame that even widespread species like this is really suffering and in decline,” he said, adding that logging and deliberate attacks by humans are among the biggest threats to the snake.

AFP contributed to this report.

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