Exploring The International Trade In Amphibians
Amphibians are currently facing a global extinction crisis, yet there is a lack of comprehensive research on one of the drivers of this crisis: the international trade in amphibians. This article, published in Fauna & Flora International, reviews the global trade in amphibian species listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES is an international conservation agreement that protects against overexploitation by banning or limiting trade in threatened or potentially threatened species. The authors analyzed reported data on the import of four trade categories between 1976 and 2007: eggs, skins, meat, and live animals.
Findings include the following:
The trade in eggs was relatively small and involved two species, 6,152 eggs, and 15 trade events. The vast majority of trade involved the Mexican salamander, which was sourced solely from the wild, primarily in the United States. Two trade events involved the strawberry poison frog, which was primarily bred in captivity and exported from Costa Rica to the United States. The authors note that the last trade event occurred in 2003 and suggest that this trade may have ceased.
The trade is skins included four species, 5,790 individuals, and multiple import and export countries. The vast majority of trade, as well as the most recent trade events, involved the Indian bullfrog. The second-most traded species, the American bullfrog, is not listed on CITES but was reported in accordance with regulations by the European Commission. The authors note that the American bullfrog has actually been categorized as one of the top 100 world’s worst invaders by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) stemming from efforts to introduce it in locations worldwide as a biocontrol agent. They suggest that in this case, CITES could potentially be used to monitor the import of a species that could negatively impact a country’s native fauna.
The trade in meat involved two species, 178 trade events, and over 26 million kilograms of meat in the form of frog legs. The authors estimate that 51-135 million green pond frogs and 480 million to 1.2 billion Indian bull frogs were traded, for a total value of more than $111 million. Meat was first exported from Bangladesh but ceased due to CITES regulations and was then exported from Vietnam. The authors state that while this trade involved “extremely high” number of animals, many of which were sourced from the wild, these animals have received limited conservation attention. Fortunately the authors also note that the trade in meat appears to be decreasing.
The trade in live animals involved 18 genera, 27 species, and 482,292 individuals. Overall, the top three genera were Mantella (a genus of frogs native to Madagascar), Dendrobates (a genus of poison dart frogs native to Central and South America), and Ambystoma (a genus of salamander found in the United States). Additionally, 78% of trade was accounted for by just 10 species, two of which—the Mexican salamander and golden frog—have an IUCN Red List category of Critically Endangered. The majority fof these were harvested from the wild while over one-third came from captive breeding facilities. The authors note these species have received significant conservation attention and should continue to be monitored. Finally, the authors identify this category as the only that is likely increasing, as 60% of total live trade was recorded after 1996.
The authors recommend further research on the financial aspects of the trade in amphibians, the influences of various market dynamics on trade, methods of tracking the trade of species not listed in CITES, and potential benefits to conservation from trade stemming from breeding of animals in captivity.
For advocates, the findings provide detailed data about the types, levels, and dynamics of the amphibian trade at a global scale. They also highlight trade types and species of greater and lesser concern. Of note are the millions of Indian bull frogs and green pond frog that have been used for meat but received very little attention. In addition, the trade in live animals deserves increased attention because it is likely continuing to grow and involves several endangered species.