EarthTalk: How are the worlds reptile species
faring in terms of population numbers and endangered status?
Whats being done, if anything, to help them?
International Union for Conservation of Nature considers
some 664 species of reptiles, including turtles,
snakes, lizards, alligators and crocodiles, as endangered
or facing extinction. Pictured: A freshwater turtle
destined for the pet trade.
worlds reptilesturtles, snakes, lizards, alligators
and crocodilesare indeed in trouble. The International
Union for Conservation of Nature, which publishes an annual
global roster of threatened and endangered species called
the Red List, considers some 664 species of reptilesrepresenting
more than 20 percent of known reptile species worldwideas
endangered or facing extinction. Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish
& Wildlife Service considers about 10 percent of American
reptiles threatened or endangered.
Why care? The
non-profit Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) considers
reptiles amazing creatures with clever adaptations
that have helped them survive for millions of years. CBD
also points out that reptiles are valuable indicators of
wider ecological health. Because many reptile species
are long-lived and relatively slow-moving, they suffer from
disturbances like habitat loss or pollution for extended
periods, the group reports, adding that a diverse
community of reptiles living in a given area is evidence
of a healthy ecosystem that can support the plant and animal
life they and other species need for food and cover.
causing the reptiles decline? While habitat
loss is the most obvious cause of endangerment, declines
are even even occurring in pristine areas from threats such
as disease, UV radiation and climate change, reports
CBD. Overcollecting and unregulated hunting also are taking
a toll on reptile populations.
In order to help
stem the tide of reptile loss, CBD leverages the court system
to pressure the federal government to protect at-risk species.
For instance, back in 2004 the group worked with the Coalition
for Sonoran Desert Protection in filing a petition to add
the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, which dwells in the quickly
disappearing wild desert around fast-growing cities like
Tucson and Phoenix, to the federal list of endangered species.
Finally in 2011 the federal government agreed that it would
add the snake to its list of endangered species which will
help it get the habitat protection needed to ensure long
CBD also works
on other fronts for reptiles. The groups campaign
to outlaw rattlesnake round-upscontests
whereby hunters collect and kill as many snakes as they
can in a yearhas helped stem population declines of
eastern diamondback rattlesnakes. And CBDs efforts
to educate the public about the plight of freshwater turtles,
which are overcollected for food and the pet
trade in the southern and midwestern parts of the U.S.,
helped convince several states for the first time to regulate
One way everyone
can help reptile species in decline is to make our backyards
friendly to them. The U.S. Geological Surveys Patuxent
Wildlife Research Center offers tips on what to plant and
how to arrange a landscape to encourage reptiles and other
wildlife. Landowners that take these steps may be rewarded
with fewer pests, given reptiles taste for large numbers
of mosquitoes and other insects as well as small rodents.
Other pro-reptile tips include driving carefully (road mortality
is a big issue for snakes, turtles and other species) and
keeping outside areas around your property free of garbage
that might attract raccoons, crows and other pests that
also prey on reptiles.
Wildlife Research Center.
been hearing for years how producing red meat is bad for
the environment while consuming it is bad for our health.
How do other types of meat, fish, dairy and vegetable proteins
stack up in terms of environmental and health impacts?
study by the Environmental Working Group assessed
the climate impacts of 20 popular types of meat,
fish, dairy and vegetable proteins and concluded
that beef has more than twice the emissions of pork,
nearly four times more than chicken and more than
13 times as much as vegetable proteins such as beans,
lentils and tofu.
Not all forms
of protein are created equal as to the environmental and
health implications of raising and consuming them. A 2011
assessment by the non-profit Environmental Working Group
(EWG) found that different meats and different production
systems have varying health, climate and other environmental
of chemical fertilizers, fuel and other production
inputs used, the differences in soil conditions and
production systems and the extent to which best practices
such as cover cropping, intensive grazing or manure management
are implemented all affect the amount of greenhouse gas
emissions a meat product is responsible for generating.
To wit, lamb, beef, cheese, pork and farmed salmon raised
conventionally (e.g. with inputs including hormones
and antibiotics and feed derived from crops grown with chemical
pesticides and fertilizers) were determined by EWG to generate
the most greenhouse gases.
with the environmental analysis firm CleanMetrics to assess
the climate impacts via lifecycle assessments of 20 popular
types of meat, fish, dairy and vegetable proteins. EWGs
assessment calculated the full cradle-to-grave
carbon footprint of each food item based on the greenhouse
gas emissions generated before and after it left the farmfrom
the pesticides and fertilizer used to grow animal feed all
the way through the grazing, animal raising, processing,
transportation, cooking and even disposal of unused food
(since some 20 percent of edible meat gets thrown away by
EWG, conventionally raised lamb, beef, cheese and pork also
generate more polluting waste, pound for pound. Of these,
lamb has the greatest impact, followed by beef and then
by cheeseso vegetarians who eat dairy arent
off the hook. Beef has more than twice the emissions
of pork, nearly four times more than chicken and more than
13 times as much as vegetable proteins such as beans, lentils
and tofu, summarizes EWG.
On the health
front, EWG reports that eating too much of these greenhouse
gas-intensive meats boosts exposure to toxins and increases
the risk of a wide variety of serious health problems, including
heart disease, certain cancers, obesity and, in some studies,
out animal-derived proteins altogether, the best thing we
can do for our health and the environment is to cut down
on our meat consumption and choose only organic, humane
and/or grass-fed meat, eggs and dairy. Overall, these
products are the least harmful, most ethical choices,
says EWG, adding that grass-fed and pasture-raised products
are typically more nutritious and carry less risk of bacterial
contamination. While best management practices can
demonstrably reduce overall emissions and environmental
harm, the most effective and efficient way to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions and environmental impacts from livestock is
simply to eat, waste and produce less meat and dairy.
For more information, check out EWGs free online Meat
Meat Eaters Guide.
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