Under-regulated pet trade leaves thousands of species vulnerable

September 29, 2020

More reptiles are kept as pets than you might expect. In 2008, the British Federation for Herpetologists reported that reptiles outnumbered dogs as the top pet in the UK, with an estimated eight million in captivity. Yet, unlike dogs, many of these animals are not bred in captivity, and international regulations on trade only apply to 9% of the over 11,000 known reptile species.

In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers from Thailand's Suranaree University of Technology and the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) revealed a worrying situation where a huge number of reptile species are being exploited, with little international regulation, implying a lack of reliable a priori estimates of the impact on wild populations.

The researchers expanded upon data from existing trade databases with an online webscrape of reptile retailers to conduct a global assessment of the reptile trade. They generated a dataset on the web-based private commercial trade in reptiles to highlight the scope of the global reptile trade.

They revealed global trade dynamics by mapping the origin of traded species, exploring the endangerment status of species, and reporting the extent of wild capture.

"Based on two international trade databases and information scraped from 24,000 web pages in five languages, we found that over 36% of reptile species are in trade - totaling almost 4,000 species," said Dr. Alice Hughes of XTBG.

The researchers further found that about three-quarters of reptile species being traded are not covered by international trade regulations, and many of these are endangered or range-restricted species, especially from hotspots within Asia.

Most noticeably, 90% of traded reptile species and half of traded individuals are captured from the wild.

The researchers proposed shifting the burden of proof to make sure trade is sustainable before allowing these fascinating species to be traded. They also called for better approaches to the pet trade, where low financial value is unlikely to raise sufficient attention to uplist relevant species to a formal appendix to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

"If we fail to mitigate the impacts of unregulated, but legal trade, small-ranged and endemic species may be the next victims of the ongoing biodiversity crisis," said Dr. Alice Hughes.

Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

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