International Trade Regulation Fails To Protect Many Reptile Species
Biodiversity is at risk due to human activities. Many animal and plant species are in peril and many have already gone extinct due to human pressures. Of all the human activities that harm global biodiversity, the wildlife trade is one of the most damaging. To curtail wildlife trade, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was created in 1975. Unfortunately, many animal species are not monitored by this convention which focus mainly on the well-known species. Many species are under the radar and there is little knowledge about their trade. As a result, some of them are traded despite the fact that they are endangered.
In this study researchers looked at the online wildlife trade to provide knowledge about the extent of this phenomenon, with a focus on reptiles. They used 64,342 different keywords such as “reptiles for sale” across five different languages on several search engines to find sites that sell reptiles. Among many things, they were interested in the species sold by these sites, and they enriched their results with two other databases: the CITES trade database and the LEMIS database. The first includes international trade of species monitored by CITES and the second includes wildlife imported into the United States.
The results revealed that the online trade in reptiles is huge. 3,943 different reptile species are traded online, equivalent to 36% of all reptile species. About 75% of these species are not subject to the CITES agreement. Moreover, of these 3,943 species, about 1,400 have not been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and therefore have no global conservation status. Of the 2,563 species that have been assessed by the IUCN, 540 are vulnerable or worse. And when a species is said to be vulnerable, it means that it is at risk of extinction if its situation does not improve.
The data also indicated that more than half of the reptiles are caught in the wild, and that every year, new species appear on the online market and that consumers in these markets are mainly in Europe and North America. The location of consumers is an important piece of information as the establishment or strengthening of laws relating to wildlife trade and imports in these areas could improve the situation. Some species were present only in certain languages or on certain websites; if the authors had used more sites and more languages, there would probably have been even more species found. Finally, recently discovered species are particularly vulnerable because they can be immediately put on the market after they are described.
The situation highlighted by the study is worrying. A large number of reptile species are subject to trade without being subject to international regulatory conventions. It is therefore difficult to know whether such trade is detrimental to the survival of these species or not.
Most solutions to this problem are institutional. Clearly, one should not buy wildlife and avoid participating in the wildlife trade, but that is likely not an issue for most people reading this. The authors proposed to change the way we regulate international reptile trade. In particular, they stressed the importance of accurately assessing each reptile population so that they can appear on the Red List. Currently, many species are not listed. They also proposed to prevent all trade within certain regions where endangered species are caught. Another ingenious solution proposed by the authors is to turn to a precautionary system. In this system, a list of tradable species would be established and all non-listed species could not be traded. This is the opposite of the current situation and it would automatically protect all new species from trade. With this system, before trading a species, it would have to be demonstrated that the species is not endangered.
If nothing is done to change the way we regulate the international trade in animals, especially reptiles, new species, those with few individuals, or endemic species may become extinct as a result of being captured for sale. This article proposes good solutions to prevent this dramatic forecast.