March 20 - A landmark study has concluded that almost one in five reptile species are threatened with extinction. The more than 200 world experts involved in the study say loss of habitat is the driving force behind the plummeting reptile populations but that overcoming the problem should not be beyond mankind. Suzannah Butcher reports.
They first appeared on the planet 300 million years ago - but now, according to a landmark study released by the Zoological Society of London, almost twenty percent of the world's reptiles are at risk of extinction. The study involved experts from around the world, who assessed hundreds of randomly selected reptiles. The results showed that one fifth of them could be in danger. But lead author, Dr Monika Bohm, says the risk is not evenly spread. SOUNDBITE (English), DR. MONIKA BOHM, POST-DOCTORAL RESEARCHER AT INSTITUTE OF ZOOLOGY, AND LEAD AUTHOR ON THE PAPER, SAYING: "For example, what we found is that snakes overall have a lower extinction risk compared to other groups of reptiles, while turtles and tortoises in particular have a very very high risk of extinction." The King Cobra -- the world's longest venomous snake -- is one of the reptiles considered to be vulnerable, while this Utila Spiny-Tailed Iguana is already on the Critically Endagered list. Able to survive in extreme habitats, reptiles often have a tough image, but Dr Bohm says they are extremely sensitive to environmental change. And it's their loss of habitat that is the main culprit. SOUNDBITE (English), DR. MONIKA BOHM, POST-DOCTORAL RESEARCHER AT INSTITUTE OF ZOOLOGY, AND LEAD AUTHOR ON THE PAPER, SAYING: "What this shows us is that our habitats are under severe threat, so they are very good indicators to show us what is happening in terms of what we as humans are doing to our habitats." The study's findings have raised alarm bells for scientists who say action is needed to stop the decline. SOUNDBITE (English), DR. MONIKA BOHM, POST-DOCTORAL RESEARCHER AT INSTITUTE OF ZOOLOGY, AND LEAD AUTHOR ON THE PAPER, SAYING: "It's relatively straightforward to kind of produce habitats that will work for reptiles at the scale of which they operate. We just need to kind of put the effort in to actually give them the chance to thrive in our man-made world." Reptiles play a vital role in the balance of nature, and experts say if they're not given the same protections as more charismatic animal species, entire food chains will be affected and the world's ecosystems will continue to decline.