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What's the Deal?



Until 200 years ago the Galápagos islands were home to hundreds of thousands of giant tortoises. During the 19th century visiting whaling ships began to collect the tortoises to stock their holds with fresh meat. They left behind a number of destructive, introduced mammals - rats, cats, pigs and goats - that preyed on the tortoises' eggs and young or competed with them for food. By the mid 20th century three of the original 14 subspecies of giant tortoises were extinct. Only four subspecies are considered to be safe from extinction. Six out of a total of seven marine turtle species are classed as Endangered or Critically Endangered "International Union for Conservation of Nature" IUCN as are seven of just 22 surviving species of crocodilian.


According to the IUCN 21 species of reptiles have become extinct in recent times. Sixteen of them lived on islands. Island species are especially vulnerable because their environment is easily affected by human impact and by the introduction of predatory animals. On Round Island in the Indian Ocean every native reptile species is either extinct or on the brink of extinction, while Mauritius, a neighbouring island has lost eight species.

Not all the news is bad, however. The surviving Galápagos tortoises are being bred successfully in captivity, goats and rats have been eliminated on some islands and the vegetation is beginning to recover. The Jamaican iguana, Cyclura collei, was believed extinct since the 1940's but turned up in small numbers in 1990 on a remote hillside. Eggs have been collected and a captive breeding program is underway. Captive bred young iguanas will be released into the wild once they are no longer vulnerable.

Jamaican Iguana Cyclura collei


Despite all the conservation measures to save them hundreds of reptile species are expected to become extinct over the next century. Habitat destruction through agricultural development, urbanisation, mineral extraction, erosion and pollution are the main causes. On top of this thousands of reptiles are killed by traffic on the roads every day and many populations have been lost through the flooding of valleys through dam construction projects throughout the World. Reptiles are also hunted for food, their eggs, or the pet trade. Sea turtles enjoy total protection throughout the World but poachers still take adults and eggs in many of the poorer parts of the World and wild crocodilians are still hunted for their skins.

Not only rare species are affected. Some species that were wide spread a few decades ago are becoming scarce. Many people will grow up without ever seeing a wild lizard, snake or turtle. The challenge for the future will be to find ways to reconcile the human race's need to expand and feed itself with the preservation of the wild places needed by reptiles and other animals.



How big is the problem, what are the causes and what can be done? These are the questions we should be asking ouselves. Amphibians belong to a unique group of vertebrates containing over 6 300 known species and are threatened worldwide. A recent assessment of the entire group found that nearly one third (32%) of the world's amphibian species are threatened, representing 1 856 species. Amphibians have existed on earth for over 300 million years, yet in just the last two decades there have been an alarming number of extinctions, nearly 168 species believed to have gone extinct and at least 2 469 (43%) more have populations that are declining. This indicates that the number of extinct and threatened species will probaly continue to rise unless we take serious action and do something about it.

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