Neglected Elders

By Youth, Howard | World Watch, September-October 1997 | Go to article overview

Neglected Elders

Youth, Howard, World Watch

Without the vociferous public support many other animals enjoy, reptiles may have a tough time weathering the growing threat of extinctions caused by the march of human development.

A brown spider vanishes from its leafy perch, displaced by a flashing white blur - the long, sticky tongue of a chameleon. A foot and a half away, the hunter snaps his mouth shut, then crunches down on his prey several times before swallowing. Splotched with bursts of lime green, kelly green, and white, the chameleon, locked to its leafy perch by clasping fused toes, is a perfectly adapted predator in the forests of Madagascar. But many Malagasies are not aware of the important role chameleons play in their forest habitat. In fact, island taboos erroneously label them as poisonous creatures, and often they are considered harbingers of bad luck. Still others see them merely as a color-changing novelty and revenue source - much in demand by the largely unregulated international pet trade.

More than half of the world's 100-plus chameleon species live only on the island of Madagascar, and most of them in its forests. But the island is also home to a burgeoning, resource-hungry human population of 12 million, which grows by 3 percent every year. Already, more than 80 percent of Madagascar's native forest has been cleared, felled by chainsaws and axes. And as habitat disappears in this crowded country, which is roughly the size of France, chameleons disappear along with it.

The plight of Madagascar's chameleons is only a microcosm of the pressures facing a vast number of reptiles today. Increased human activities have pushed many of these ancient creatures to the verge of extinction. Worldwide, at least 21 reptile species have completely vanished within the last 400 years - and these are likely only the tip of the iceberg. The 1996 World Conservation Union's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Animals reports that 20 percent of reptiles for which there "is adequate information to assign a conservation status" are threatened with extinction: 3 percent of these are "critically endangered;" 5 percent "endangered;" and 12 percent "vulnerable."

Many reptiles share the plight of the chameleon, in that they engender intense fear or fascination in people - whether through physical encounters or through the archetypal role they play in the legends and lore of human cultures. Some cultures regard reptiles as powerful religious symbols. The cobra plays a prominent role in Hindu religion, representing Shiva, the god of fertility and death; the plumed serpent Quetzalcoatl was the chief object of worship in Aztec culture, representing fertility, death, and resurrection; the turtle generously agrees to support the earth on its shell in Mohawk and other Native American creation myths; and Australian Aborigines associate a giant rainbow serpent with the creation of life. But perhaps the most telling portrayal of reptiles - reflecting a widely prevalent attitude toward reptiles today - is the serpent described in the Book of Genesis that deceived Adam and Eve, and prompted their fall from innocence. This stigma of reptilian evil has retained a strong grip on the popular imagination, as reflected, for example, in the recent Hollywood film Anaconda, a horror-filled tale of a 12-meter-long, human-eating snake. But today, reptiles have much more to fear from humans than humans do from them.

Reptiles tend to keep low profiles - crouching under rocks, crawling through undergrowth, hiding under water, or perching in trees - and often, especially in the case of research and conservation priorities, out of sight has been out of mind. Unlike birds or frogs, reptiles do not burst into song, and they do not capture the attention of as many biologists as charismatic large mammals do. Consequently, the distribution, ecology, and basic biology of most species remain poorly studied. In fact, the scientists who compiled the Red List were only able to fully assess three of the six reptile orders: the crocodilians, the testudines (turtles, tortoises, and terrapins), and the lizard-like tuataras, each of which ranked high in the number of threatened species - 43 percent, 38 percent, and 50 percent, respectively. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Neglected Elders


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.