The World's Most Threatened Reptiles

A geometric tortoise.
A geometric tortoise.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission, nearly one in five of the world’s reptiles comprising of snakes, crocodiles, lizards, and turtles are threatened with extinction. The survival of these species is entirely dependent on collective conservation efforts by every stakeholder.

7. Ploughshare Tortoise Angonoka

The Ploughshare Tortoise is a land tortoise surviving only in the Madagascan Island. It is endemic in the dry forests of Baly Bay area of northwestern Madagascar, near the town of Soalala and Baie de Baly National Park. There are only six hundred individuals left with a distribution of 9.7 to 23.2 sq. miles and their survival is highly threatened and are at risk of extinction in the next 15 years.

The greatest threat for the tortoise is the bush pigs that prey on the tortoise eggs and young hatchlings. Due to the attractive coloration of their shells, the tortoise is captured as pets and traded in the global market with one tortoise fetching $60,000. Conservation efforts have commenced with the engraving their shells with identifying marks to make them less attractive to poachers and collectors.

6. Tarzan’s Chameleon

The Tarzan chameleon is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as among the most endangered species on the planet. It was discovered in 2009 in the eastern town of Tarzanville in Madagascar. The chameleon is identified with its green or yellow color, although it adopts a unique stripped color when stressed. Tarzan’s chameleon is at risk of extinction following the ongoing clearance and of its humid forest habitat in favor of agriculture. Illegal logging and artisanal gold mining in the area further create pressure for the species.

Although the Tarzan chameleon is not found within the protected areas of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, its endemic grounds have been demarcated for protection. The capturing and trade of the species is highly been monitored and controlled. Biologists in the region have come up with the Tarzan flagship project aimed at supporting conservation efforts of fragmented forests in Madagascar.

5. Red River Giant Softshell Turtle

The Red River Giant Softshell Turtle is the most critically endangered species in the world. Also known as the Yangtze softshell turtle, it is considered the largest freshwater turtle in the world. It is estimated to live for over a century and an adult turtle weighs 200 pounds. There are only three surviving species two of which are in captivity in Suzhou zoo in China and the other lives in the wild waters of Dong Mo Lake in Vietnam. The survival of the species is dependent on the reproduction of the two (male and female) turtles in captivity in China. Zoologists from the conservation believe that artificial insemination is last hope for reproduction. Within the 10 years, the two turtles have lived together, no reproduction has taken place as the male is considered to have a low sperm count and motility.

4. Leaf Scaled Sea-Snake

The Leaf Scaled Sea-Snake is a critically endangered venomous water snake. It is named for the characteristic leaf-like shape of its scales, which strongly overlap each other. In the 1990s, there were over 9,000 species of the sea-snake and as of 2016, only 16 individuals of the species were found in in the sea-grass beds of Shark Bay off the coast of Western Australia, 1,000 miles from their presumed range. The decline of the sea-snake is largely attributed to the degradation of their habitat due to coral bleaching and destruction of their healthy ecosystem leading to a decline in their food. As a shallow water species, the increased water temperatures resulting from climatic change increases the upper lethal limit beyond which the snake cannot survive and since they are not adapted to survive in the deep waters, their dispersal ability is affected.

3. Jamaican Rock Iguana

The Jamaican Rock Iguana is listed among the most threatened reptile species by CITES. It is the largest terrestrial vertebrate in Jamaica rediscovered in the region in 1990 after being considered extinct. There are only 100 individuals of the species left inhabiting the tropical dry forest and limestone outcrops Hellshire Hills of south-east Jamaica. Traditionally, rock iguanas were hunted for meat by native Jamaicans reducing their population in the 19th century. Today, this species faces survival challenges from invasive predators such as mongooses, cats, pigs and stray dogs, which eat juvenile iguanas and destroy their breeding nests. Albeit being considered to inhabit the Portland Bight Protected Area, Jamaican Rock Iguanas continue to face the loss of habitat due to illegal deforestation in favor of charcoal production, road construction, and mining

2. Geometric Tortoise

The Geometric tortoise is a critically endangered species and the rarest of the tent tortoise found in a small fragment of Cape Town, South Africa. It derives its name from the adorning pattern found on its vaulted shell, which occasionally appears symmetrical. The tortoise is restricted to certain habitats comprising of fynbos vegetation. The existence of the species is highly threatened by the destruction of more than 90% of the renosterveld habitat in favor of urbanization and agriculture. The spread of intrusive non-native vegetation in the Cape Fold region coupled with frequent unplanned and uncontrolled fires has led to the depletion of food reserves for the geometric tortoise leading to leading to an unprecedented decline of 80% of the total population. Conservation efforts such as captive breeding have proved futile towards increasing the population of the species thus calling for strict protection measures to ensure its survival in the wild.

1. Common Batagur Four-Toed Terrapin

The Batagur Four-Toed Terrapin is an endangered fresh and backwater turtle species native to Southeast Asia. It became extirpated in the 20th century due to the destruction of its natural habitat and inability to survive in manmade conditions. The species has further been threatened by the overcollection of adult eggs from nesting grounds and illegal poaching for meat. The surviving remnants of the species continue to face survival challenges from the introduction of mechanized fishing technology with wide-area nets. Since conservation efforts are woefully inadequate, experts have called for complete protection of the species and its eggs for continued reproduction and survival in the wild.


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