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Herpetological Conservation

Globally, it is now estimated that some 20-30% of all amphibian and reptile species are endangered or vulnerable to extinction, with at least 30 species having actually become extinct during the last four hundred years. Of the 85 species of amphibians found in Europe, 22.9% are considered threatened, of which 2.4% are listed as Critically Endangered, 7.2% as Endangered and 13.3% as Vulnerable. A similar picture exists for Europe's 151 species of reptiles, with 19.4% threatened, of which 4.3% are categorized as Critically Endangered, 7.9% as Endangered, and 7.1% as Vulnerable.

The decline of Europe's herpetofauna over recent decades has been alarming in the face of habitat change and destruction, the introduction of invasive alien species and the growing impact of climate change. Indeed a recent study on the effects of climate warming on European amphibians and reptiles by Araújo et al. (2006) suggested that 'most European species of amphibian and reptiles modelled in this study would be projected to lose suitable climate space by 2050. This would conditionally support the hypothesis that climate change might have caused or – more rigorously – cause further declines of herptile species (particularly amphibians) in the future.'

Unfortunately, as Mittermeier et al. (1992) point out, 'in conserving the herpetofauna we face some very significant obstacles. In particular, many amphibians and reptiles do not have a very positive image in the mind of the public, mainly because one of the groups – snakes – is extremely unpopular with the world at large.'  People's fears and misconceptions have tended to blind them as to the cultural, scientific and economic significance of amphibians and reptiles, in particular the vital role they play as integral parts of various ecosystems and their value in controlling agricultural pests, both rodents and insects. As Mittermeier et al. (1992) conclude: 'We need more conservation education and public awareness activities focusing on amphibians and reptiles, and demonstrating their aesthetic, economic and scientific values to local people and the world at large.'

At Wild Rodopi, we are committed to the conservation of amphibians and reptiles in the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains through a variety of herpetology research and education projects. With some 46 species of amphibians and reptiles having been recorded in the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains, this region is one of the most important hot-spots for herpetology in Europe. Of these species, 32 are reptiles, of which almost half, 15 species are snakes. The true distribution and abundance of many of these snakes is still unclear, but certainly habitat destruction and direct persecution have meant that several species are of conservation concern and in need of further study.