Small reptiles threatened by urbanization, mining in Latin America

Quito, May 10 (EFE).- Small reptiles in Latin America are facing threats from urbanization and mining in areas with little or no environmental protection, according to what Diego Cisneros, the co-author of the most complete global study on reptiles, told EFE in Quito on Wednesday.

A professor and researcher with the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) and the National Biodiversity Institute of Ecuador (Inabio), Cisneros said that despite the fact that research recently published in Nature magazine suggested that conservation strategies for other vertebrates also benefited reptiles, that’s not the case “for all of them.”

“In the city of Quito, there are some species of snakes that live in dry valleys and are not protected under initiatives that do protect other vertebrates,” he said.

According to the study conducted by 900 experts, of whom 15 are Ecuadorian, a little over one in five reptiles around the world are facing extinction and about 1,800 species of lizards, snakes, crocodiles and tortoises are in critical danger.

Headed by NatureServe, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Conservation International, the research project made a global evaluation of 10,196 reptile species for which, up to now, exhaustive studies had not been carried out.

The results indicate that the most threatened reptiles are tortoises (57.9 percent of which are in danger) and crocodiles (50 percent), but many of these species “probably would benefit” from conservation efforts directed at saving other animals.

“This study allows us to say that the conservation strategies that are being carried out with threatened mammals, birds and amphibians usually have more chance than expected of also benefiting threatened reptiles,” Cisneros said.

He emphasized that, despite the huge sample of species analyzed between 2010 and 2017, “each year (new) species continue to be described, especially in tropical countries in the global South.”

The greater portion of the threats to reptile populations are the same ones that are causing the global biodiversity crisis, including the destruction and fragmentation of habitats, which affects some species more than others.

“In cities like Bogota, Quito and Guayaquil, with very accelerated territorial expansions, clearly we’re seeing that not only is it habitat change for agriculture but also for urbanization,” he warned.

The studies show that, while crocodiles, caymans and tortoises usually suffer from the effects of hunting, non-sustainable fishing practices like longline fishing are affecting specific groups like marine turtles.

“We can’t ignore the fact that specific groups of reptiles require our attention with specific conservation policies,” he said.

As an example, he mentioned the Galapagos Archipelago, which is a national park and enjoys conservation policies that have fostered the survival and reproduction of endemic species like giant tortoises, along with geckos and marine iguanas.

“We’re seeing that populations are maintaining themselves or growing,” said the USFQ professor, who is heading a study on the incidence of Asian and South Sea geckos that would be excluding the native species in the Ecuadorian islands.

Another result of the international study is that mountainous humid areas and rainy tropical zones are the habitats that are being destroyed to a greater extent for agricultural purposes and urbanization, a situation that puts a greater number of reptile species in danger.

He added that the phenomenon of mining expansion in the region is one of the biggest threats to reptiles.

“In many of the Andean countries, the issue of mining is of extreme concern in many areas, whether they are protected (zones) or not. It’s coming to areas with this profile where there are many species of highly threatened reptiles in humid forested zones,” he emphasized.

Some of the species included in the study have been reduced to populations of only a few individuals.

“Either we implement urgent conservation strategies or we’re going to lose them,” the researcher warned.

EFE db/fgg/ess/bp

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