Many of Europe’s reptiles and amphibians are threatened, becoming rare or are only locally common in recent years. There are a number of reasons for this, the most prominent are due to habitat loss, illegal collecting and the fact that some species have a limited natural range. The IUCN Red list of reptiles and amphibians states that several European species are now critically endangered (CR), and many more are endangered (EN). However many species are still abundant in certain areas, the biggest general declines would appear to be with amphibians, which is a global problem believed to be caused by climate change. The spread of Chytrid Fungus in amphibians appears to be one of the major contributing factors in amphibian decline, although in Europe it has not yet been found affecting wild populations as severly as elsewhere, some captive populations of endangered species have contracted the fungus and thereby damaged conservation efforts. One of the exceptions in this case is the Appenine yellow-bellied toad (Bombina pachypus), which is endemic to Italy and has suffered huge losses in wild populations, believed to have been caused by the Chytrid Fungus and is therefore classed as endangered (EN). However, habitat destruction is the single greatest threat to European reptiles and amphibians.

On some occasions individual human ignorance can contribute to decreases in populations:

An Ottoman viper (Montivipera xanthina) killed by a local farmer in Thrace, N-E Greece (C) Matt Wilson

Limited range

Some species in Europe are in need of conservation efforts because of their limited distribution and are therefore more vulnerable to extinction if local populations are lost. A prime example in Europe is the Karpathos water frog (Pelophylax cerigensis) which is one of only two European amphibians to be classed as Critically Endangered (CR). This water frog is now thought to inhabit only a single area on the Greek island of Karpathos and is a very real candidate for extinction in the near future. This is owing more to its limited range of this very small island with a lack of natural fresh water sources more than actions by man, as the island is relatively undevelopped. This is also the case with some other threatened species in Europe, such as the Milos viper (Macrovipera schweizeri) which inhabits the small Greek islands of Milos, Kimolos, Polyaigos and Sifnos and is classed as endangered (EN). However this species is somewhat more persecuted than other endangered reptiles and amphibians by people, as well as having been collected for private vivariums and many animals are killed by traffic. Another species, the Cretan water frog (Pelophylax cretensis) is also classed as endangered (EN), as it is an endemic species to the island of Crete where it has a patchy distribution. However it is often locally abundant, but is absent from large areas in the eastern part of the island and is only found in the lowlands.

Milos viper (Macrovipera schwerzeri) probably Europe’s most threatened snake species (C) Ilias Strachinis

Although locally common in some areas of Crete, the Cretan water frog (Pelophylax cretensis) is still classed as an endangered species (EN) (C) Matt Wilson

Illegal collecting

An often over looked area of conservation of reptiles and amphibians in Europe is illegal collecting of wild animals for the pet trade. The growing trend of keeping reptiles and amphibians in home vivariums has meant many wild populations have been severly affected due to over collections by individuals and have even made some species on the brink of local extinction. Those particularly affected in Europe are the vipers (Viperidae) and the tortoises (Testudinidae) as well as some species of colubrid snake such as the Leopard snake (Zamenis situla). Even the endangered Milos viper (Macrovipera schweizeri) has suffered from individuals visiting the few small Greek islands on which it occurs and taking snakes away for private venomous snake collections. Such practices were (and perhaps still are) rife throughout former Yugoslavia, the most common victim here being the Nose-horned viper (Vipera ammodytes), as well as Hermann’s tortoises (Testudo hermanni). Many popular holiday destinations, such as Corfu have suffered considerably from illegal collecting, and whereas species such as the Leopard snake (Zamenis situla) are hard to find and only have the odd individual collected, tortoises can often be found in higher numbers and an entire local population can be wiped out.

Reptiles such as the Spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca) are still sort after for the pet trade (C) Matt Wilson

The Leopard snake (Zamenis situla) is the jewel in the crown for European snake keepers, it does however not settle well into captivity and most animals seen in the pet trade have been wild caught (C) Matt Wilson

Road construction

Increased traffic and construction has created a fatal environment for all wildlife, and reptiles and amphibians would seem to be more vulnerable to death on the roads than most other animal groups. Breeding amphibians often have to cross roads in great numbers to reach their breeding ponds and in Britain it is not unusual for 30-40% of a population of Common toads (Bufo bufo) to be killed by traffic en route to such ponds. There is very little that can be done to decrease species mortality on the roads, but in Britain as well as other countries in Europe, toad ‘signs’ are constructed to warn drivers that large numbers of amphibians will be crossing the road during the breeding season.

The toad crossing road sign, often found in Britain and other European countries

This also a frequent tool used to make people aware of  tortoises that often venture onto busy roads, in Doñana National Park in Andalusia, Spain, there are even signs making people aware that snakes are often crossing the roads and to avoid killing them. Most reptiles and amphibians are far more likely to be killed on the roads during the breeding season, as many snakes and other reptiles travel considerable distances in search of a mate. Outside of the breeding season, rainy nights often bring considerable amounts of amphibians onto roads as they are hunting for prey. In the Mediterranean, warm tarmac roads are regularly used by snakes in the evenings as a last chance of the day to gain some warmth.

A Nose-horned viper (Vipera ammodytes) killed by a car in Greece (C) Matt Wilson

Sometimes on my trips, either I or one of my colleagues face the unpleasant task of ending an animals suffering after it has been run over by a car. Here with a mortally wounded Blotched rat snake (Elaphe sauromates) (C) Thomas Reich

Captive breeding/reintroduction

An important part of conservation are captive breeding programs with the eventual hope of reintroduction. Many institutions such as zoos and museums take responsability of maintaining and breeding threatened species. A recent example of a successful captive breeding project was that of the Majorcan midwife toad (Alytes muletensis). When this species was first discovered in 1979 on the Serra de Tramuntana mountain on Majorca it was believed to be threatened with extinction. However thanks to efforts by such institutions as the Jersey Zoo and Barcelona zoo, this toad has been breed successful in captivity and many specimens have been released back into Majorca. Thanks to such efforts this species is now catagorised as vulnerable (VU) rather than endangered (EN). Other efforts are made to re-establish extinct local populations of reptiles and amphibians, this is something that was done recently in Britain with the hope of replenishing lost Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) numbers in southern England. Other such programs exist elsewhere in Europe, such as with the Orsini’s viper (Vipera ursinii) which is classed as a vulnerable species (VU) across its patchy European range.

Majorcan midwife toad (Alytes muletensis) (C) Jeroen Speybroeck

Introduced species

The introduction of non native species has throughout history affected many populations of European reptiles and amphibians. Some historical introductions have had drastic affects on endemic species such as Lilford’s wall lizard (Podarcis lilfordi) on Majorca and Minorca. This lizard was once common on both these islands but the historical introduction of non native snakes from Spain and Algeria caused the extinction of the lizards on the islands and they are now only found on uninhabited islets just off the coast of the main islands where snakes are absent. The presence of the introduced Viperine snake (Natrix maura) on Majorca is one of the contributing factors in the decline of the Majorcan midwife toad (Alytes muletensis) on which the snake predates. However studies have shown an evolutionary trend in the tadpoles of the toad species, and they have apparently evolved to remain still for longer periods so they cannot be detected by this water snake. Introductions from outside Europe, including that of the American bull frog (Rana catesbaiena) have proven to be a great risk to native herpetofauna. This frog had established itself in several parts of England, as well as France and an area in Spain. Most local authorities make strong efforts to exterminate this species once it has been detected as they often displace native frog species.

The Viperine snake (Natrix maura) has been introduced to Majorca (C) Matt Wilson

IUCN list of threatened amphibians in Europe CR-(Critically endangered), EN- (Endangered), VU- (Vulnerable)

RANIDAE Pelophylax cerigensis Karpathos Frog CR

SALAMANDRIDAE Calotriton arnoldi Montseny Brook Newt CR

BOMBINATORIDAE Bombina pachypus Appenine Yellow-bellied Toad EN

PLETHODONTIDAE Speleomantes supramontis Supramonte Cave Salamander EN

RANIDAE Pelophylax cretensis Cretan Frog EN

RANIDAE Pelophylax shqipericus Albanian Water Frog EN

RANIDAE Rana pyrenaica Pyrenean Frog EN

SALAMANDRIDAE Euproctus platycephalus Sardinian Brook Salamander EN

ALYTIDAE Alytes dickhilleni Betic Midwife Toad VU

ALYTIDAE Alytes muletensis Mallorcan Midwife Toad VU

PLETHODONTIDAE Atylodes genei Sardinian Cave Salamander VU

PLETHODONTIDAE Speleomantes flavus Monte Albo Cave Salamander VU

PLETHODONTIDAE Speleomantes sarrabusensis Sette Fratelli Cave Salamander VU

PROTEIDAE Proteus anguinus Olm VU

RANIDAE Pelophylax epeiroticus Epirus Water Frog VU

RANIDAE Rana latastei Italian Agile Frog VU

SALAMANDRIDAE Chioglossa lusitanica Golden-striped Salamander VU

SALAMANDRIDAE Lyciasalamandra helverseni Lycian Salamander VU

SALAMANDRIDAE Salamandra lanzai Lanza’s Alpine Salamander VU

IUCN list of threatened reptiles in Europe CR-(Critically endangered), EN- (Endangered), VU- (Vulnerable) Excludes reptiles from the Canary Islands as not geographically part of Europe

LACERTIDAE Podarcis raffonei Aeolian Wall Lizard CR

LACERTIDAE Algyroides marchi Spanish Algyroides EN

LACERTIDAE Iberolacerta aranica Aran Rock Lizard EN

LACERTIDAE Iberolacerta aurelioi Aurelio’s Rock Lizard EN

LACERTIDAE Iberolacerta cyreni Carpetane rock lizard EN

LACERTIDAE Podarcis carbonelli Carbonell’s Wall Lizard EN

LACERTIDAE Podarcis cretensis Cretan Wall Lizard EN

LACERTIDAE Podarcis lilfordi Lilford’s Wall Lizard EN

LACERTIDAE Macrovipera schweizeri Milos Viper EN

GEOEMYDIDAE Mauremys leprosa* Spanish Terrapin VU

LACERTIDAE Dinarolacerta mosorensis Mosor Rock Lizard VU

LACERTIDAE Iberolacerta monticola Iberian Rock Lizard VU

LACERTIDAE Podarcis gaigeae Skyros Wall Lizard VU

LACERTIDAE Podarcis levendis VU

LACERTIDAE Podarcis milensis Milos Wall Lizard VU

TESTUDINIDAE Testudo graeca Spur-thighed Tortoise VU

VIPERIDAE Vipera latastei Lataste’s Viper VU

VIPERIDAE Vipera ursinii Orsini’s Viper VU

EMYDIDAE Emys orbicularis* European Pond Turtle NT VU

LACERTIDAE Eremias arguta* Steppe-runner VU

One comment on “Conservation

  1. Another factor with amphibians and roads especially toads: Bufo bufo is the inability when semi mature to climb kerbstones, they then walk along the kerb side and fall headlong into the road drains. As a child I spent hours fishing them out of the small roadside drains in the streets around my home. I became very adept at getting them onto a stick and slowly lifting them out i must have saved thousands over the years hopefully they wouldn’t just fall back later. September was always the worst month I recall as lthe last years toadlets arrived at the edge of town.and even today always look down adrain as I cross the road.


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