ResearchGate, the professional network for researchers, and Pensoft today announced a new partnership that will see a set of Pensoft’s open access journals increase their reach and visibility through ResearchGate – increasing access and engagement with its 25 million researcher members.
As part of this new partnership, 20 journals published by Pensoft – including the publisher’s flagship titles ZooKeys, PhytoKeys, MycoKeys, Biodiversity Data Journal and Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO Journal) amongst others – will now have their content automatically added to ResearchGate upon publication to benefit from enhanced visibility and discoverability through ResearchGate’s innovative Journal Home offering. These journals will all have dedicated profiles and be prominently represented on all associated article pages on ResearchGate, as well as all other relevant touch points throughout the network.
Journal Home provides a unique opportunity for Pensoft to connect its authors with their readers. The new journal profiles on ResearchGate will provide a central location for each journal, enabling researchers to learn more, discover new article content, and understand how, through their network, they are connected to the journal’s community of authors and editors. Authors of these journals additionally benefit from having their articles automatically added to their ResearchGate profile page, giving them access to metrics, including who is reading and citing their research. These rich insights will also enable Pensoft to build a deeper understanding of the communities engaging with its journals.
“Pensoft is delighted to be working with ResearchGate to provide an even greater service to our authors and readers. ResearchGate offers an innovative way for us to grow the reach and visibility of our content, while also giving us a way to better understand and engage our author and reader audiences.”
said Prof Lyubomir Penev, CEO and founder of Pensoft.
“We couldn’t be happier to see Pensoft embark on this new partnership with ResearchGate. Journal Home will not only enable Pensoft authors to build visibility for their work, but provide them and Pensoft with greater insights about the communities engaging with that research. I look forward to seeing this new collaboration develop”
said Sören Hofmayer, co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at ResearchGate.
ResearchGate is the professional network for researchers. Over 25 million researchers use researchgate.net to share and discover research, build their networks, and advance their careers. Based in Berlin, ResearchGate was founded in 2008. Its mission is to connect the world of science and make research open to all.
Nanopublications complement human-created narratives of scientific knowledge with elementary, machine-actionable, simple and straightforward scientific statements that prompt sharing, finding, accessibility, citability and interoperability.
By making it easier to trace individual findings back to their origin and/or follow-up updates, nanopublications also help to better understand the provenance of scientific data.
With the nanopublication format and workflow, authors make sure that key scientific statements – the ones underpinning their research work – are efficiently communicated in both human-readable and machine-actionable mannerin line with FAIR principles. Thus, their contributions to science are better prepared for a reality driven by AI technology.
The machine-actionability of nanopublications is a standard due to each assertion comprising a subject, an object and a predicate (type of relation between the subject and the object), complemented by provenance, authorship and publication information. A unique feature here is that each of the elements is linked to an online resource, such as a controlled vocabulary, ontology or standards.
Nanopublications associated with a manuscript submitted to BDJ. This workflow lets authors add a Nanopublications section within their manuscript while preparing their submission in the ARPHA Writing Tool (AWT). Basically, authors ‘highlight’ and ‘export’ key points from their papers as nanopublications to further ensure the FAIRness of the most important findings from their publications.
Standalone nanopublication related to any scientific publication, regardless of its author or source. This can be done via the Nanopublications page accessible from the BDJ website. The main advantage of standalone nanopublication is that straightforward scientific statements become available and FAIR early on, and remain ready to be added to a future scholarly paper.
Nanopublications as annotations to existing scientific publications. This feature is available from several journals published on the ARPHA Platform, including BDJ. By attaching an annotation to the entire paper (via the Nanopublication tab) or a text selection (by first adding an inline comment, then exporting it as a nanopublication), a reader can evaluate and record an opinion about any article using a simple template based on the Citation Typing Ontology (CiTO).
Nanopublications for biodiversity data?
At Biodiversity Data Journal (BDJ), authors can now incorporate nanopublications within their manuscripts to future-proofthe most important assertions on biological taxa and organisms or statements about associations of taxa or organisms and their environments.
On top of being shared and archived by means of a traditional research publication in an open-access peer-reviewed journal, scientific statements using the nanopublication format will also remain ‘at the fingertips’ of automated tools that may be the next to come looking for this information, while mining the Web.
Using the nanopublication workflows and templates available at BDJ, biodiversity researchers can share assertions, such as:
So far, the available biodiversity nanopublication templates cover a range of associations, including those between taxa and individual organisms, as well as between those and their environments and nucleotide sequences.
As a result, those easy-to-digest ‘pixels of knowledge’ can capture and disseminate information about single observations, as well as higher taxonomic ranks.
The novel domain-specific publication format was launched as part of thecollaboration betweenKnowledge Pixels – an innovative startup tech company aiming to revolutionise scientific publishing and knowledge sharing and the open-access scholarly publisherPensoft.
Basically, a nanopublication – unlike a research article – is a tiny snippet of a precise and structured scientific finding (e.g. medication X treats disease Y), which exists as a reusable and cite-able pieces of a growing knowledge graph stored on a decentralised server network in a format that it is readable for humans, but also “understandable” and actionable for computers and their algorithms.
These semantic statements expressed in community-agreed terms, openly available through links to controlled vocabularies, ontologies and standards, are not only freely accessible to everyone in both human-readable and machine-actionable formats, but also easy-to-digest for computer algorithms and AI-powered assistants.
In short, nanopublications allow us to browse and aggregate such findings as part of a complex scientific knowledge graph. Therefore, nanopublications bring us one step closer to the next revolution in scientific publishing, which started with the emergence and increasing adoption of knowledge graphs.
“As pioneers in the semantic open access scientific publishing field for over a decade now, we at Pensoft are deeply engaged with making research work actually available at anyone’s fingertips. What once started as breaking down paywalls to research articles and adding the right hyperlinks in the right places, is time to be built upon,”
By letting computer algorithms access published research findings in a structured format, nanopublications allow for the knowledge snippets that they are intended to communicate to be fully understandable and actionable. With nanopublications, each of those fragmentsof scientific information is interconnected and traceable back to its author(s) and scientific evidence.
By building on shared knowledge representation models, these data become Interoperable (as in the Iin FAIR), so that they can be delivered to the right user, at the right time, in the right place , ready to be reused (as per the R in FAIR) in new contexts.
Another issue nanopublications are designed to address is research scrutiny. Today, scientific publications are produced at an unprecedented rate that is unlikely to cease in the years to come, as scholarship embraces the dissemination of early research outputs, including preprints, accepted manuscripts and non-conventional papers.
A network of interlinked nanopublications could also provide a valuable forum for scientists to test, compare, complement and build on each other’s results and approaches to a common scientific problem, while retaining the record of their cooperation each step along the way.
We encourage you to try the nanopublications workflow yourself when submitting your next biodiversity paper to Biodiversity Data Journal.
Community feedback on this pilot project and suggestions for additional biodiversity-related nanopublication templates are very welcome!
On the journal website: https://bdj.pensoft.net/, you can find more about the unique features and workflows provided by the Biodiversity Data Journal (BDJ), including innovative research paper formats (e.g. Data Paper, OMICS Data Paper, Software Description, R Package, Species Conservation Profiles, Alien Species Profile), expert-provided data audit for each data paper submission, automated data export and more.
Don’t forget to also sign up for the BDJ newsletter via the Email alert form on the journal’s homepage and follow it on Twitter and Facebook.
Earlier this year, Knowledge Pixels and Pensoft presented several routes for readers and researchers to contribute to research outputs – either produced by themselves or by others – through nanopublications generated through and visualised in Pensoft’s cross-disciplinary Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO) journal, which uses the same nanopublication workflows.
Apart from coordinating the Horizon 2020-funded project BiCIKL, scholarly publisher and technology provider Pensoft has been the engine behind what is likely to be the first production-stage semantic system to run on top of a reasonably-sized biodiversity knowledge graph.
OpenBiodiv is a biodiversity database containing knowledge extracted from scientific literature, built as an Open Biodiversity Knowledge Management System.
As of February 2023, OpenBiodiv contains 36,308 processed articles; 69,596 taxon treatments; 1,131 institutions; 460,475 taxon names; 87,876 sequences; 247,023 bibliographic references; 341,594 author names; and 2,770,357 article sections and subsections.
In fact, OpenBiodiv is a whole ecosystem comprising tools and services that enable biodiversity data to be extracted from the text of biodiversity articles published in data-minable XML format, as in the journals published by Pensoft (e.g. ZooKeys, PhytoKeys, MycoKeys, Biodiversity Data Journal), and other taxonomic treatments – available from Plazi and Plazi’s specialised extraction workflow – into Linked Open Data.
“The basics of what was to become the OpenBiodiv database began to come together back in 2015 within the EU-funded BIG4 PhD project of Victor Senderov, later succeeded by another PhD project by Mariya Dimitrova within IGNITE. It was during those two projects that the backend Ontology-O, the first versions of RDF converters and the basic website functionalities were created,”
At the time OpenBiodiv became one of the nine research infrastructures within BiCIKL tasked with the provision of virtual access to open FAIR data, tools and services, it had already evolved into a RDF-based biodiversity knowledge graph, equipped with a fully automated extraction and indexing workflow and user apps.
Currently, Pensoft is working at full speed on new user apps in OpenBiodiv, as the team is continuously bringing into play invaluable feedback and recommendation from end-users and partners at BiCIKL.
As a result, OpenBiodiv is already capable of answering open-ended queries based on the available data. To do this, OpenBiodiv discovers ‘hidden’ links between data classes, i.e. taxon names, taxon treatments, specimens, sequences, persons/authors and collections/institutions.
Thus, the system generates new knowledge about taxa, scientific articles and their subsections, the examined materials and their metadata, localities and sequences, amongst others. Additionally, it is able to return information with a relevant visual representation about any one or a combination of those major data classes within a certain scope and semantic context.
Users can explore the database by either typing in any term (even if misspelt!) in the search engine available from the OpenBiodiv homepage; or integrating an Application Programming Interface (API); as well as by using SPARQL queries.
On the OpenBiodiv website, there is also a list of predefined SPARQL queries, which is continuously being expanded.
“OpenBiodiv is an ambitious project of ours, and it’s surely one close to Pensoft’s heart, given our decades-long dedication to biodiversity science and knowledge sharing. Our previous fruitful partnerships with Plazi, BIG4 and IGNITE, as well as the current exciting and inspirational network of BiCIKL are wonderful examples of how far we can go with the right collaborators,”
All journals published by Pensoft – each using the publisher’s self-developed ARPHA Platform – provide extensive and transparent information about their costs and services in line with the Plan S principles.
In support of transparency and openness in scholarly publishing and academia, the scientific publisher and technology provider Pensoft joined the Journal Comparison Service (JCS) initiative by cOAlition S, an alliance of national funders and charitable bodies working to increase the volume of free-to-read research.
As a result, all journals published by Pensoft – each using the publisher’s self-developed ARPHA Platform – provide extensive and transparent information about their costs and services in line with the Plan S principles.
The JCS was launched to aid libraries and library consortia – the ones negotiating and participating in Open Access agreements with publishers – by providing them with everything they need to know in order to determine whether the prices charged by a certain journal are fair and corresponding to the quality of the service.
According to cOAlition S, an increasing number of libraries and library consortia from Europe, Africa, North America, and Australia have registered with the JCS over the past year since the launch of the portal in September 2021.
While access to the JCS is only open to librarians, individual researchers may also make use of the data provided by the participating publishers and their journals.
This is possible through an integration with the Journal Checker Tool, where researchers can simply enter the name of the journal of interest, their funder and affiliation (if applicable) to check whether the scholarly outlet complies with the Open Access policy of the author’s funder. A full list of all academic titles that provide data to the JCS is also publicly available. By being on the list means a journal and its publisher do not only support cOAlition S, but they also demonstrate that they stand for openness and transparency in scholarly publishing.
“We are delighted that Pensoft, along with a number of other publishers, have shared their price and service data through the Journal Comparison Service. Not only are such publishers demonstrating their commitment to open business models and cultures but are also helping to build understanding and trust within the research community.”
said Robert Kiley, Head of Strategy at cOAlition S.
About cOAlition S:
On 4 September 2018, a group of national research funding organisations, with the support of the European Commission and the European Research Council (ERC), announced the launch of cOAlition S, an initiative to make full and immediate Open Access to research publications a reality. It is built around Plan S, which consists of one target and 10 principles. Read more on the cOAlition S website.
About Plan S:
Plan S is an initiative for Open Access publishing that was launched in September 2018. The plan is supported by cOAlition S, an international consortium of research funding and performing organisations. Plan S requires that, from 2021, scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants must be published in compliant Open Access journals or platforms. Read more on the cOAlition S website.
By the time authors – who have acknowledged third-party financial support in their research papers submitted to a journal using the Pensoft-developed publishing platform: ARPHA – open their inboxes to the congratulatory message that their work has just been published and made available to the wide world, a similar notification will have also reached their research funder.
This automated workflow is already in effect at all journals (co-)published by Pensoft and those published under their own imprint on the ARPHA Platform, as a result of the new partnership with the OA Switchboard: a community-driven initiative with the mission to serve as a central information exchange hub between stakeholders about open access publications, while making things simpler for everyone involved.
All the submitting author needs to do to ensure that their research funder receives a notification about the publication is to select the supporting agency or the scientific project (e.g. a project supported by Horizon Europe) in the manuscript submission form, using a handy drop-down menu. In either case, the message will be sent to the funding body as soon as the paper is published in the respective journal.
“At Pensoft, we are delighted to announce our integration with the OA Switchboard, as this workflow is yet another excellent practice in scholarly publishing that supports transparency in research. Needless to say, funding and financing are cornerstones in scientific work and scholarship, so it is equally important to ensure funding bodies are provided with full, prompt and convenient reports about their own input.”
comments Prof Lyubomir Penev, CEO and founder of Pensoft and ARPHA.
“Research funders are one of the three key stakeholder groups in OA Switchboard and are represented in our founding partners. They seek support in demonstrating the extent and impact of their research funding and delivering on their commitment to OA. It is great to see Pensoft has started their integration with OA Switchboard with a focus on this specific group, fulfilling an important need,”
adds Yvonne Campfens, Executive Director of the OA Switchboard.
About the OA Switchboard:
A global not-for-profit and independent intermediary established in 2020, the OA Switchboard provides a central hub for research funders, institutions and publishers to exchange OA-related publication-level information. Connecting parties and systems, and streamlining communication and the neutral exchange of metadata, the OA Switchboard provides direct, indirect and community benefits: simplicity and transparency, collaboration and interoperability, and efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Pensoft is an independent academic publishing company, well known worldwide for its novel cutting-edge publishing tools, workflows and methods for text and data publishing of journals, books and conference materials.
All journals (co-)published by Pensoft are hosted on Pensoft’s full-featured ARPHA Publishing Platform and published in a way that ensures their content is as FAIR as possible, meaning that it is effortlessly readable, discoverable, harvestable, citable and reusable by both humans and machines.
Herpetozoa, the peer-reviewed scientific journal of the Austrian Herpetological Society, renewed its contract with Pensoft, re-signing with the scholarly publisher for another five years. Published since 1988, the journal offers a venue for research articles, short contributions and reviews dealing with all aspects of the study of amphibians and reptiles.
Herpetozoa, thepeer-reviewed scientific journal of the Austrian Herpetological Society, renewed its contract with Pensoft, re-signing with the scholarly publisher for another five years. Published since 1988, the journal offers a venue for research articles, short contributions and reviews dealing with all aspects of the study of amphibians and reptiles.
Enticed by the opportunities that open access publishing offers, and looking to improve its visibility, Herpetozoa first came to Pensoft in 2019. The move equipped the journal with abrand new website and a full suite of publishing services tailored to the needs of biodiversity-themed academic publications available from ARPHA, Pensoft’s self-developed publishing platform.
In ARPHA’s fast-track publishing system, each manuscript is carried through all stages, from submission and reviewing to dissemination and archiving, without ever leaving the platform’s collaboration-friendly online environment. In addition, semantic enhancements, automated data export to aggregators, web-service integrations with major indexing databases, and a variety of publishing formats ensure that all articles are easy to find, access, and use by both humans and machines.
The journal also makes use of ARPHA Preprints, another service developed by Pensoft to streamline public access to the latest scientific findings. The platform allows authors to submit a preprint in a matter of seconds along with their manuscript, with no need to upload any additional files. Following a quick in-house screening, the preprint is then made available on ARPHA Preprints in a few days’ time. Once the associated paper is published, a two-way link between the article and the preprint is established via CrossRef.
In the past three years, we saw Herpetozoa publish some quite peculiar discoveries that were quick to attract the attention of the global media. Such was the case of a set of first-of-their-kind observations of kukri snakes gutting toads and eating their organs while still alive. At the same time, the journal doesn’t fail to bring public attention to urgent conservation and biodiversity loss issues like reptile poaching in Pakistan, as well as innovative methods to monitor delicate amphibians in a non-invasive manner.
In September 2020, we reported the first evidence for a newly discovered behaviour in snakes, as we provided extensive photographic documentation, demonstrating a macabre feeding strategy of Asian kukri snakes of the species Oligodon fasciolatus, the Small-banded Kukri Snake: a snake cutting open the abdomen of a toad, inserting its head and pulling out the toad’s organs which are then swallowed.
A Small-banded Kukri Snake attacking a Painted Burrowing Frog, which is inflating its lungs. The snake makes rotations about its own longitudinal body axis (“death rolls”), as it is biting and holding the belly of the frog. Video byNavapol Komanasin.
This is done while the toad is alive and it may take several hours before it dies! We have now provided new evidence that two other species of kukri snakes also exhibit this highly unusual behaviour: Oligodon formosanus, the Taiwanese Kukri Snake, and Oligodon ocellatus, the Ocellated Kukri Snake. These three species are closely-related and belong to the same species group in the genus Oligodon.
On two occasions in Hong Kong, a Taiwanese Kukri Snake was observed eviscerating frogs of the species Kaloula pulchra, the Painted Burrowing Frog or Banded Bullfrog. In one case, the snake had cut open the belly of the frog and inserted its head deep into the frog’s abdomen. In this position, the snake performed repeated rotations about its own longitudinal body axis, also called “death rolls”! We believe that the purpose of these death rolls was to tear out organs to be subsequently swallowed. In the other case, the organs of the frog had been forced out of its abdomen.
A Taiwanese Kukri Snake with its head buried deep into the abdomen of a Painted Burrowing Frog. Initially, the frog moves its long fourth toe of the left hind foot up and down 21 times. During the subsequent active struggle, the snake makes three “death rolls”. Video by Jonathan Rotbart.
A Small-banded Kukri Snake was also observed eating a Painted Burrowing Frog in Northeast Thailand, but it swallowed the frog whole. That snake also performed death rolls, although we have never before seen that behaviour in this species of kukri snake (this species was treated in our 2020 paper). This frog is not considered toxic and is also eaten by other snakes. We believe that prey size is crucial in determining whether the gape width allows large prey to be swallowed whole by kukri snakes. If the prey is too large, the snake may eviscerate a frog or toad, in order to swallow the organs. Afterwards, the snake will perhaps be able to swallow the rest of the frog or toad.
In another new paper, we describe and illustrate the Ocellated Kukri Snake eating the toxic toad Asian Black-spotted Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) in Vietnam. Initially, the large snake’s head was buried past its eyes into the abdomen of the toad, but eventually the snake swallowed the toad whole despite its toxicity. We interpret this behaviour that kukri snakes are in fact resistant to the toads’ cardiac glycoside toxins. Furthermore, toads are only eviscerated if they prove too large to be swallowed whole.
We suggest that the unique behaviour of eviscerating frogs and toads and eating their organs may have evolved specifically in a group of kukri snakes named the Oligodon cyclurus group or clade because it has now been recorded in three of its species, namely Oligodon fasciolatus, Oligodon formosanus and Oligodon ocellatus. We hope that future observations may uncover additional aspects of the fascinating feeding habits of kukri snakes though we may indeed call them gruesome.
See more video recordings of the snakes’ unique, even if quite gruesome, behaviours provided as supplementary files to one of the discussed research papers.
Our observations on the quite small-bodied Asian kukri snakes in Thailand have documented a feeding behaviour which differs from anything ever described in snakes.
Normally, snakes would swallow their prey whole. However, this particular species: the Small-banded Kukri Snake (Oligodon fasciolatus), would instead use its enlarged posterior maxillary teeth to cut open the abdomen of large poisonous toads, then inserts its entire head into the cavity to pull out and eat the organs one by one, while the prey is still alive!
During those macabre attacks, we managed to capture on camera three times, the toads struggled vigorously to escape and avoid being eviscerated alive, but, on all occasions, this was in vain. The fights we saw lasted for up to a few hours, depending on the organs the snake would pull out first.
The toads observed belong to the quite common species called Asian Black-spotted Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), which is known to secrete a potent toxin from their prominent parotid glands, located on the neck and all over the back. Could it be that the snakes have adopted this sophisticated and gory approach to avoid being poisoned?
In a fourth, and equally important, case, an adult kukri snake attacked a somewhat smaller individual of the same toad species. However, this time, the snake swallowed the entire toad. Why did the snake swallow the juvenile toad, we still don’t know. Perhaps smaller toads are less toxic than adults? Or, could it be that kukri snakes are indeed resistant to the Asian Black-spotted toad’s poison, yet the large size of the adult toads prevented the snakes from swallowing them in the three afore-mentioned cases?
At present, we cannot answer any of these questions, but we will continue to observe and report on these fascinating snakes in the hope that we will uncover further interesting aspects of their biology.
Perhaps you’d be pleased to know that kukri snakes are, thankfully, harmless to humans. However, I wouldn’t recommend being bitten by one of those. The thing is that they can inflict large wounds that bleed for hours, because of the anticoagulant agent these snakes inject into the victim’s bloodstream. Their teeth are designed to inflict lacerations rather than punctures, so your finger would feel as if cut apart! This secretion, produced by two glands, called Duvernoy’s glands and located behind the eyes of the snakes, are likely beneficial while the snakes spend hours extracting toad organs.
Bringsøe H, Suthanthangjai M, Suthanthangjai W, Nimnuam K (2020) Eviscerated alive: Novel and macabre feeding strategy in Oligodon fasciolatus (Günther, 1864) eating organs of Duttaphrynus melanostictus (Schneider, 1799) in Thailand. Herpetozoa 33: 157-163. https://doi.org/10.3897/herpetozoa.33.e57096
aitik Patel and Dr Abhijit Das of the Wildlife Institute of India came up with one of the very first non-invasive approaches to identify individual frogs using photos from their natural habitats, which are then processed with the animal recognition software HotSpotter. Their unique method is described in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal Herpetozoa.
This means that we hardly have any population data for Indian amphibians, which leads to a serious conservation bottleneck, especially when you are dealing with elusive herpiles. Therefore, there is the pressing priority to obtain demographic trends to prompt and support conservation actions for endemic and habitat-dependent species.
While demographics of natural populations is best estimated with the mark-recapture technique, used in animals, where individuals have distinct body markings, such as the stripes in a tiger, the dots in a whale shark and the fingerprints in a human. In the meantime, while frogs are well known for their individual-specific markings and colour patterns, this kind of technique has never been used in amphibians, even though they have long been recognised as some of the most vulnerable animals on Earth.
On the other hand, it is hardly possible to capture and mark individual frogs in the wild. So, Naitik Patel and Dr Abhijit Das of the Wildlife Institute of India came up with one of the very first non-invasive approaches to identify individual frogs using photos from their natural habitats, which are then processed with the animal recognition software HotSpotter. Their unique method is described in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal Herpetozoa.
“Capturing each frog is not possible in the field, so to address this problem, we conducted a short study on Beautiful stream frogs (Amolops formosus), a species that, just like many other amphibians, has variable body markings amongst individuals. As this species inhabits the Himalayan torrent stream, which is difficult to access, we tried our best to photograph each frog from a distance to avoid any kind of physical contact,”
Having concluded their study with a success rate of 94.3%, the research team is hopeful that their protocol could be effectively implemented in rapid population estimation for many endangered species of frogs.
“We conducted photographic documentation to capture the unique markings of each frog, and then compared them, using computer-assisted individual identification. With this method, the number of individuals can be counted to estimate the population structure. This study is exceptional, owing to the minimal disturbance it causes to the frogs. Such a technique has rarely been tried on amphibians and is a promising method to estimate their numbers. It can also be used in citizen science projects,”
Since 2013, following a strict enforcement of provincial wildlife legislation in the less studied regions of Asia, the overall trend of illegal reptile poaching is steadily decreasing. Despite that, the issue is not yet resolved and poached reptiles are largely destined not only for the international pet trade, but also utilised in folk medicines and snake charmer shows, according to a recent study, published in the open-access journal Herpetozoa.
Since 2013, following a strict enforcement of provincial wildlife legislation in the less studied regions of Asia, the overall trend of illegal reptile poaching is steadily decreasing. But it’s too early to claim that the issue is solved. Poached reptiles are largely destined not only for the pet trade, but also folk medicines and snake charmer shows, according to the recent study led by the scientists from the Pakistan Museum of Natural History and the University of Peshawar published in the open-access journal Herpetozoa.
For the first time, the exploitation of reptiles for the pet trade has come to the attention of the public in the late 1960s. In general, illegal poaching is one of the problems we still face a lot all over the world, despite strict restrictions which are coming in force massively over the last decades. The wildlife trade leads not only to biodiversity loss (through capture of protected species), but also threatens with a possible spread of animal-borne diseases, due to interspecies contact at pet and folk medicine markets. The case of the recent COVID-19 pandemic gives a lesson to learn, and in order to stop further occurrences, a focus on law-enforcement activities should be brought to wildlife trade hotspots.
In the particular case of Pakistan, a country with high species diversity of reptiles, still very little is known about the links between illegal wildlife trade and wildlife decline. The illegal poaching and trade in Pakistan are largely undocumented and it’s difficult to bring accurate data since the trade involves many channels and follows informal networks. There is marginal information available about the medicinal use of wild flora and fauna for some parts of Pakistan, but there is no report on the commercialisation, harvest, market dynamics and conservation impact of these activities.
Since 2013, a number of confiscations of different reptile species and their parts from Pakistani nationals have been reported widely from across the country, which resulted in the enforcement of legislations regarding the wildlife trade in Pakistan.
An international team of researchers, led by Dr. Rafaqat Masroor from Pakistan Museum of Natural History investigated the extent of illegal reptile collection in southwestern Balochistan. Scientists tried to determine what impact these activities might have on the wild populations.
The field trips, conducted in 2013-2017, targeted Chagai, Nushki, Panjgur, Kharan and Washuk districts in Balochistan province. Over those years, scientists interviewed 73 illegal collectors. Most of the collectors worked in groups, consisting of males, aged between 14 to 50 years.
“They were all illiterate and their sole livelihood was based on reptile poaching, trade, and street shows. These collectors were well-organized and had trapping equipment for the collection of reptiles. […] These groups were locally known as “jogeez”, who mainly originated from Sindh Province and included snake charmers, having their roots deep with the local hakeems (herbal medicine practitioners) and wildlife traders, businessmen and exporters based at Karachi city. […] We often observed local people killing lizards and snakes, mostly for fear of venom and part for fun and centuries-old myths”,
Amongst the reasons for the province of Balochistan to remain unexplored might have been the lack of government environmental and wildlife protection agencies, lack of resources and specialists of high qualification in the provincial wildlife, forest and environment departments, as well as geopolitical position and remoteness of vast tracts of areas.
Scientists call for the provincial and federal government to take action and elaborate a specific strategy for the conservation of endemic and threatened species as a part of the country’s natural heritage both in southwestern Balochistan and whole Pakistan. The conservation plan needs to be consulted with specialists in the respective fields, in order to avoid incompetence.
Also, the research group suggests to strictly ban illegal poaching of venomous snakes for the purpose of venom extraction.
What is important to remember is that Balochistan represents one of the most important areas of Asia with a high number of endemic reptile species. The illegal capture of these species presents a threat to the poorly documented animals. Even though the current trend for captured reptiles is decreasing, more actions are needed, in order to ensure the safety of the biodiversity of the region.
Dr. Rafaqat Masroor Email: firstname.lastname@example.org