We have had everyone from the WWF issuing dire warnings on behalf of large animals at the top of the food chain, down to the no less aggressive ‘butterfly lobby’ at the other end. In essence the message is – ‘Critters are at risk, and it’s all your fault’. Now I am disturbed to find a vocal ‘lizard lobby’ emerging, led by the Zoological Society of London in conjunction with the IUCN.
The ‘who’? You may ask.
The ‘International Union for the Conservation of Nature’, no less. Funded by the world’s governments, with an annual turnover of around $100million and over 1000 staff in 45 offices, they are not an organisation to be sneezed at.
They claim to be a ‘neutral forum’, but tell us that they ‘demonstrate how biodiversity is fundamental to addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges, such as climate change, sustainable development and food security’. They also issue the ‘dreaded’ IUCN ‘Red List’ of species at risk, which categorizes each one according to to the perceived threat or population size.
The list of Snakes and Lizards alone names 3755 species from ‘Ablepharus Bivittatus'(The 2 Streaked Snake-Eyed Skink of Armenia and Azerbaijan) to ‘Zygastris Nigra’ of Angola and Zambia.
Recently, the Guardian’s Environment Editor John Vidal, cut and pasted the report from IUCN under the headline ‘One in five reptile species faces extinction’, even though the original report used the words ‘is struggling to survive’. Alarming stuff, you would say, but are we really about to lose 751 of them?
Fortunately not. It’s all down to ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’.
Of those ‘Under threat’ – 47% are said to be ‘vulnerable’, 41% are ‘endangered’ and only 12% are ‘critically endangered’. Only 90 of them then, out of 3755: it’s starting to look better already! But let’s look a little more closely at those 90 that are ‘critically endangered’.
Many years ago, when I first visited the Canaries, there was one large charcoal grey lizard that was found on all seven islands. Boys with airguns used them for target practice and no-one seemed concerned.
Now we find that ‘Gallotia Galloti’ (Gallot’s Lizard) is not one, but eight different species, with four of them described as ‘critically endangered’ and the others listed as being of ‘least concern’. I will not here try to argue whether each IS a distinct sub species or not, but suffice it to say that ‘Gallotia Bravoana’, the one on La Gomera, now has its Government- and EU-funded ‘Centro de Recuperation’ on the island.
As a herpetologist I applaud this or any other attempt to avoid the loss of any species, but let’s not get too excited about ‘imminent bio-diversity loss’, the IUCN can only find three out of the sample they checked of the 3755 snakes and lizards which are already ‘extinct’, and even they might be found by the next search party, unless their habitat has been totally destroyed. This usually occurs when local people, having no electricity, tear down the trees and other vegetation for cooking.
Sadly, for the Guardian, the IUCN and the Zoological Society of London, the threat to the ‘critically endangered’ Canarian lizards comes not from ‘Climate Change’ or ‘Habitat Destruction’ but from that most-feared of all predators, ‘Felis Catus’.
So if you want to help to save a ‘critically endangered’ lizard, hang a large bell round your pussy’s neck!
Also by this contributor