Effective and targeted conservation action requires detailed information about species, their distribution, systematics and ecology as well as the distribution of threat processes which affect them. Knowledge of reptilian diversity remains surprisingly disparate, and innovative means of gaining rapid insight into the status of reptiles are needed in order to highlight urgent conservation cases and inform environmental policy with appropriate biodiversity information in a timely manner. We present the first ever global analysis of extinction risk in reptiles, based on a random representative sample of 1500 species (16% of all currently known species). To our knowledge, our results provide the first analysis of the global conservation status and distribution patterns of reptiles and the threats affecting them, highlighting conservation priorities and knowledge gaps which need to be addressed urgently to ensure the continued survival of the world's reptiles. Nearly one in five reptilian species are threatened with extinction, with another one in five species classed as Data Deficient. The proportion of threatened reptile species is highest in freshwater environments, tropical regions and on oceanic islands, while data deficiency was highest in tropical areas, such as Central Africa and Southeast Asia, and among fossorial reptiles. Our results emphasise the need for research attention to be focussed on tropical areas which are experiencing the most dramatic rates of habitat loss, on fossorial reptiles for which there is a chronic lack of data, and on certain taxa such as snakes for which extinction risk may currently be underestimated due to lack of population information. Conservation actions specifically need to mitigate the effects of human-induced habitat loss and harvesting, which are the predominant threats to reptiles. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.