Wild reptiles vulnerable to unregulated online trading: study

Lizard, photo: Christian Englmeier on Unsplash
Lizard, photo: Christian Englmeier on Unsplash

More than a third of reptiles are bought and sold online in often unregulated international trade, researchers said Tuesday. The market primarily caters to buyers in Europe and North America.

Even rare animals, like the speckled cape tortoise and Seychelles tiger chameleon, are bought and sold in online forums, according to the new study by researchers in Thailand and China.

The British Federation for Herpetologists has reported that there are more pet reptiles than dogs in Britain. But unlike most other pets, the study found that almost half of the traded individuals are captured from the wild.

“We did not expect that almost 40 percent of the world’s largest terrestrial vertebrate group would be in trade, that so many endangered and critically endangered species would be included,” co-author Alice Hughes of China’s Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden told AFP.

Researchers used the database of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which monitors international trade in its listed animals, and the Law Enforcement Management Information System (LEMIS) covering wildlife imports into the US.

The authors also searched some 25,000 web pages based on keywords in five languages and found that at least 36 percent of reptile species are being traded.

The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, identified parts of Southeast Asia as of most concern for the trade in endangered species. 

In Africa, most countries had significant numbers of species that had not been assessed for vulnerability to extinction.

Hughes highlighted fears for newly-discovered species, with some animals appearing for sale online just months after being described by science.   

“Combined with the ease of keeping most reptiles, there is the ‘cool’ angle, which is why there is a real pursuit of novelty, especially for colorful or unusual species like leaf tail geckos,” said Hughes.

She added that previous research suggested whole wild populations of reptiles were harvested using details from scientific reports, where traders can find the locations of the animals.

She said that because it takes time for a species to be listed with CITES, newly described species would not necessarily have any trade protection and this creates incentives for wildlife traffickers.

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