Reptiles include a diverse group of vertebrates that range across a wide variety of habitat types. From deserts to tropical forests, arid and moist grasslands, savannahs, and even some marine environments.
ARC works to conserve amphibians and reptiles through research, education and inspiring socially responsible action. We also provide grants to support conservation projects around the world.
Reptiles are apex predators and play an important role in the food chain, controlling populations of smaller animals that could upset the ecosystem balance. Educating people about these species can help them understand why it’s necessary to protect their habitat.
In many regions, protecting key habitats is a critical strategy to safeguard the remaining population of endangered reptiles. Several studies (e.g., a site comparison study in 2006-2007 in semiarid savanna with sparse woody vegetation in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and nearby unprotected farmland) have shown that protected areas support higher reptile species richness and abundance than adjacent unprotected farms.
Other measures to prevent habitat loss include stopping illegal harvest and trade of reptiles, reducing human-wildlife conflict, and addressing threats that affect both humans and reptiles. Controlling invasive species is essential; these organisms can have devastating impacts on local populations by competing with or preying on native reptiles.
Global conservation efforts to conserve threatened mammals, birds, and amphibians are more likely than expected to co-benefit a large number of the 1,829 threatened reptile species worldwide1. This finding supports the need for targeted safeguarding of key sites and emergency action for individual species. Efforts to reduce climate change risks will also benefit reptiles in specific habitat types. These include tropical and freshwater biomes, and arid and desert habitats.
Reptiles may be used in education programs in a variety of settings, from small thematic exhibits focusing on a particular habitat to full-size displays. The animals used, the depth of information presented and the audience may differ greatly from one program to the next, ranging from fund-raisers for animal welfare groups to educational programs for park visitors and schools. Educational programs that involve wildlife and conservation education usually attempt to change learner attitudes, behaviors and beliefs through the use of live animals (Gibson, 1994a; San Francisco Zoological Society, 1983).
Educators should always strive to present reptiles in their normal forms, so that audience members will be able to identify these animals in their own yards, parks and wild areas, when they encounter them. This is especially important when working with indigenous species. Captive-bred color and pattern morphs are best saved for teaching the basics of genetics and heredity, or for lectures addressing reptiles as pets.
The use of reptiles in education programs is not without controversy. Like all animals, reptiles can become habituated to the handling and contact of people, which affects their behavior and the effectiveness of the educational experience. Nevertheless, many educators have experienced the joy of seeing learners overcome their fear and growing respect for reptiles. In some cases, this is the most rewarding aspect of an educator’s job.
Reptile conservation needs specialised scientific research on the species themselves, their habitats and the threats they face. Effective conservation requires detailed information on the status and distribution of species, and of the threat processes that affect them, including invasive species and land use change.
In the past, comprehensive extinction risk assessments have been available for birds, mammals and amphibians for over a decade and underpin conservation action1. However, until recently, such analyses had excluded reptiles, despite them being one of the most threatened groups of vertebrates and representing 15.6 billion years of unique phylogenetic diversity2.
Our research in this area includes the development of innovative methods to deliver species-specific information on the status of reptiles to policymakers in a timely manner. We also work on the ecology of reptiles, their habitats and relationships with humans in an attempt to develop more targeted conservation actions and avoid extinctions.
Historically, research on reptiles has been skewed towards temperate regions and lower taxonomic groups (such as Testudines and Crocodylia), leaving a huge gap in knowledge about the ecology of tropical and megadiverse reptiles. However, we are now seeing an increase in studies focused on landscape ecology (including connectivity and edge effects), behaviour, population ecology and wildlife management. We must continue to improve knowledge about the distribution of reptiles, particularly within the tropics and in arid regions, where they are most vulnerable to human-induced habitat change.
Due to their often small ranges and narrow niche requirements, reptiles are particularly susceptible to anthropogenic threat processes. For example, habitat loss and overexploitation are key threats to the genus Atelopsis in Madagascar. In addition, the low reproductive rate of some reptiles (especially snakes and lizards) makes them vulnerable to local population crashes that could trigger a catastrophic extinction event.
The recent availability of global extinction-risk assessments for birds, mammals and amphibians has highlighted the severity of the reptilian conservation crisis. These global assessments allow reptiles to be incorporated into conservation prioritization analyses that have previously relied only on birds, mammals and amphibians.
This is important because the geographical prioritizations of birds, mammals and amphibians have been found to overlap broadly with those based on the extinction risk of reptiles with limited ranges (median species accumulation indices are 0.66 and 0.76 for 50-km and 100-km resolutions respectively).
However, this finding does not mean that we can now automatically consider the conservation status of birds, mammals or amphibians as an appropriate surrogate for reptiles. As the reptiles that are endemic to the most remote locations are also the most endangered, it is crucial to assess their conservation status on a case-by-case basis, with special attention paid to tropical areas where habitat loss is most dramatic, and to taxa such as snakes for which extinction risks may be underestimated.