Reptile Conservation

Reptile conservation involves efforts to ensure the survival of a species. This may include protection, restoration or management of habitat.


A study in Nature shows that conservation efforts targeting threatened mammals, birds and amphibians are more likely than expected to co-benefit many of the 1,829 currently classified reptiles. However, effective conservation action requires detailed information on reptilian diversity and distribution.


While reptiles have had an impressive evolutionary track record, their resilience may be coming to an end in the Anthropocene era of global environmental change and human impact. A new global assessment finds that at least a fifth of reptiles are threatened, including iconic species like Komodo dragons and loggerhead turtles. The research, published in the journal Nature, relies on a comprehensive review of 10,196 reptile species using criteria from the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

The researchers found that at least 1,829 of those species—21 percent—are classified as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. The findings could be an underestimation, though. The authors of the study explain that because comprehensive extinction risk assessments for reptiles have been lacking, many species with outdated assessments are likely in even worse condition now than they were when they last were assessed.

The most significant threats to reptiles are habitat loss from agricultural expansion, urban development and logging. Hunting and invasive species are also serious concerns for reptiles, especially those that live in forests. The researchers say that targeted efforts to conserve these forest-dwelling reptiles should be included in wider efforts to protect tetrapods. Specifically, they say that focusing on those species with the highest threat levels will help them recover. For example, the researchers recommend focusing on reducing logging and hunting pressure on crocodiles and turtles while expanding conservation of the broader group of species that share their forest habitats.


Reptiles need habitats that provide the conditions necessary for them to survive, including:

Surface areas where they can bask and avoid extreme temperatures.

Ground-based thermal shelter, where they can thermoregulate and escape predators.

Water, where they can drink and swim or bathe.

Space to move around, hide and rest.

An area where they can find food and a place to breed or lay eggs.

A safe environment that is easy for them to navigate.

Depending on their species, reptiles may be diurnal or nocturnal, so they need a day-and-night cycle that mimics the sun’s light and dark patterns. It is also important to have a hygrometer, a thermometer and a terrarium screen or lid to control the temperature and humidity of their environment.

Most reptiles need two types of heat: ambient, which is the overall air temperature of their habitat; and digestive, which they seek by directly touching ground-based sources of heat like a heat lamp or ceramic heater. These heat sources should be on a timer to ensure that the environment does not become too hot or too cold.

Creating the right habitats for reptiles requires a lot of planning and work, especially because many people attempt to make their enclosures look natural by adding plants, branches, molded back and side walls, “ponds” and more, but often do not leave enough room for the reptile to move around, thermoregulate and access the microclimates they need.


With deep phylogenetic diversity and relatively high levels of species richness, reptiles are particularly vulnerable to extinction. Assuming that all threatened species become extinct, they could lose a proportionally greater amount of their phylogenetic diversity than birds, mammals or amphibians.

As with other tetrapods, habitat loss and hunting are the main causes of threat to reptiles. However, the impact of climate change is likely to be more significant for some reptiles. For example, increased temperatures may decrease the number of days each year when foraging opportunities are available, and changes in the length of hibernation periods could have a negative impact on population demographics and persistence.

Among the squamata, the largest group of reptiles, the highest threat to turtles and crocodiles is unsustainable hunting, and for the tuatara the biggest threat is the illegal trade, often to supply distant customers with pets or luxury handbags. These groups are also most associated with wetlands, habitats that are under siege globally due to human-induced development and expansion of urban areas.

Although conservation efforts to save birds, mammals and amphibians will likely benefit a range of threatened reptiles, they need to be targeted at those that are range-restricted and requiring specific conservation actions. This will require a greater effort to understand the threats facing these species and the habitats they need for survival.


Reptiles occupy a range of niches in their ecosystems and play important ecological functions such as nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration and water quality control. They are also part of the global wildlife economy, contributing to tourism and food security.

The good news is that conservation efforts that have been a success for amphibians, birds and mammals will likely benefit many of the 1,829 threatened reptile species. However, these efforts must continue to be targeted at unique reptilian areas and more tailored policies must also be enacted for those species most at risk of extinction.

A new global reptile assessment provides a much-needed tool to guide conservation actions. At the species level, it will allow the inclusion of reptiles in extinction-risk assessments such as ‘green status’ assessments, identification of Key Biodiversity Areas and resource allocation using systematic conservation planning.

The findings will be valuable at the landscape level too, helping to identify where conservation actions can target priority reptilian species and their habitats. They may even inform a shift in the way we manage land and water resources to help support a more resilient wildlife economy.

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