Madagascar's reptiles: Highly threatened but not yet over the edge

12 August 2014 | News story

Reptiles are among Madagascar's most bewildering creatures but nearly 40% of them are facing an elevated risk of extinction according to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.  A study published today in the journal PLOS ONE says that successful management of Madagascar’s protected areas is crucial to the survival of many of these species.

In the paper, Extinction Risk and the Conservation of Madagascar’s Reptiles, the authors, including several IUCN Species Survival Commission members,  analysed patterns in the geographic distribution of the more than 370 reptile species studied and the threats facing them.

Madagascar is renowned for its unique animals and plants, most of which occur nowhere else on Earth. Few tourists leave the island without being astonished by a glimpse of its colourful chameleons, giant snakes and otherworldly leaf-tail geckos. However, most of Madagascar's wildlife is affected by habitat destruction.

Forest clearance is the main threat to the island's snakes and lizards – including chameleons and geckos. All Malagasy species of tortoises and freshwater turtles were classed as Critically Endangered. They occur at least partially inside protected areas, yet illegal collection of some species for food in Madagascar and the collection of others for the international pet trade have seen their populations decline over the years.

There are eight threatened reptile species that occur exclusively in sites without any current conservation management which adds to their extinction risk.

Whilst these results are alarming, the study provides new information that can better inform national planning and interventions to reduce the rate of habitat loss and limit threats, especially in protected areas. Trade monitoring and community engagement are identified as key complementary measures to safeguard these species.

The study also gives some reason for optimism. No extinctions have so far been documented, with almost all known species having been recorded in recent years in the wild, highlighting the importance of Madagascar’s new protected areas. Yet, threats exist even in many protected sites, highlighting the need for their improved management.

If Madagascar's nature reserves are efficiently protected and managed, there will be a good chance to save the majority of the island's reptiles from extinction.

For more information please contact the lead author of the paper:  Richard Jenkins, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission's Chameleon Specialist Group richard.jenkins@iucn.org