Snake trade in Indonesia is not sustainable enough — but it could be

A substantial part of the trade in blood pythons in Indonesia is illegal and underreported, a new study published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation found.

Wildlife trade is a multi-million dollar industry. While some animals are traded legally, in compliance with legislation that aims to protect populations, wildlife trafficking continues to thrive in many places, threatening precious species with extinction.

Reptiles are exported in large numbers, and snakes are no exception. They are mostly traded for their skins, used in luxury leather products, or as pets. In the case of the blood python, which can reach up to 250 cm in length, there are clear indications of misdeclared, underreported or illegal trading involving tens of thousands of individuals around the world.

According to Vincent Nijman, professor in anthropology at Oxford Brookes University in the UK, harvest and trade in certain species of snakes, especially ones that are common and have a high reproductive output, can be sustainable. But how do we make sure it really is?

Blood python in Kaeng Krachan National Park in Thailand. Photo by Tontan Travel

“Sustainability is best assessed by surveying wild populations, but this takes time and effort,” Nijman explains. “An alternative method is to use data from slaughterhouses and compare how certain parameters (number of snakes, size, males vs females) change over time.”

This method has been used by several research groups to assess the sustainability of the harvest and trade in blood pythons in Indonesia. The outcomes of these assessments vary widely, with some researchers claiming the trade is sustainable, and others that it is not and that populations are in decline. 

“A major problem with these assessments is that while they can detect a change in, for instance, the number of blood pythons that arrive in slaughterhouses, it is unclear if this is due to changes in the wild population, changes in harvest areas, methods of harvesting, or changes in the regulations that permit the harvest to take place,” Nijman elaborates.

Blood python in Kaeng Krachan National Park in Thailand. Photo by Tontan Travel

Using publicly available information, and searching for evidence of illicit trade, he set out to establish if there is sufficient data to assess whether blood pythons are indeed exploited sustainably in Indonesia. 

“There is no conclusive data to support that the harvest of blood pythons in North Sumatra is sustainable, but there is sufficient evidence to suggest that a substantial part of this trade is illegal,” he points out in his study, which was published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation.

He goes on to explain that there is no one-on-one relationship between the sustainability of harvest and trade and its legality: “A species can be legally traded to extinction, or it can be traded illegally in small enough numbers for it to be sustainable.”

Conceptual framework of the relationship between population size, sustainable harvest and global conservation status. The harvest that took place between A and B, C and D, and E and F, could be considered sustainable, whereas it is unsustainable between B and C and D and E. The global threat assessment based on two of the IUCN threat level criteria (population size and declining populations) are not tightly linked to harvest sustainability (modified after Yamaguchi 2014).

A clear trend in the last decade  was a change in the way blood pythons are harvested, compared to previous periods, “from opportunistic capture to, at least in part, targeted collection.”

Blood pythons are not included on Indonesia’s protected species list, but their harvest and trade, both domestically and internationally, is regulated by a quota system. The harvest for domestic trade typically constitutes 10% of what is allowed to be exported.

Nijman’s research identified substantial evidence of underreported and illegal international trade in blood pythons. “Part of any assessment of sustainability of the harvest and trade in blood pythons must address this as a matter of urgency,” he concludes.

Research article:

Nijman V (2022) Harvest quotas, free markets and the sustainable trade in pythons. Nature Conservation 48: 99-121. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.48.80988

Major highway in India threatens reptiles and amphibians

“Is it the road that crosses the habitat, or does the habitat cross the road?” ask scientists before agreeing that the wrong road at the wrong place is bound to cause various perils for the local wildlife, habitats and ecosystems.

Is it the road that crosses the habitat, or does the habitat cross the road?” ask scientists at Gauhati University (Assam, India) before agreeing that the wrong road at the wrong place is bound to cause various perils for the local wildlife, habitats and ecosystems. Furthermore, some of those effects may take longer than others to identify and confirm.

This is how the research team of doctoral research fellow Somoyita Sur, Dr Prasanta Kumar Saikia and Dr Malabika Kakati Saikia decided to study roadkill along a 64-kilometre-long stretch of one of the major highways in India: the National Highway 715. 

What makes the location a particularly intriguing choice is that it is where the highway passess between the Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Assam and the North Karbi Anglong Wildlife Sanctuary, thus tempting animals to move to and from the floodplains of Kaziranga and the hilly terrain of the Sanctuary to escape the annual floods or – on a daily basis – in search for food and mating partners.

In the beginning, they looked into various groups, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, before realising that the death toll amongst frogs, toads, snakes and lizards was indeed tremendous, yet overlooked. Their findings were recently published in the peer-reviewed scholarly journal Nature Conservation.

“To our surprise, the death toll within that 64-kilometre stretch of the highway was indeed dramatic. We estimated that it has been over 6000 animals that have fallen under the wheels of motor vehicles within a single year. Prior to our study, similar research had focused on big charismatic species like the tiger, elephant and rhino, so when we took into account also the smaller animals: frogs, toads, snakes and lizards, the count went through the roof. Thus, we decided to make smaller species the focus of our work,”

comments Sur.

In conclusion, the scientists agree that roads and highways cannot be abandoned or prevented from construction and expansion, as they are crucial in connecting people and transporting goods and necessities. 

“Yet, we can definitely put some effort into designing and constructing them in a scientifically sound, eco-friendly and sustainable manner, so that they don’t become the bane for our ecosystems,”

the team concludes.

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Research article:

Sur S, Saikia PK, Saikia MK (2022) Speed thrills but kills: A case study on seasonal variation in roadkill mortality on National highway 715 (new) in Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong Landscape, Assam, India. In: Santos S, Grilo C, Shilling F, Bhardwaj M, Papp CR (Eds) Linear Infrastructure Networks with Ecological Solutions. Nature Conservation 47: 87-104. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.47.73036

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Call for research outcomes addressing four UN Sustainable Development Goals in RIO Journal

Eligible submissions enjoy a 50% discount off APCs in 2021

Since its launch in 2015, RIO Journal has been mapping its articles to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. The articles published so far span the entire research cycle, a broad range of research fields and all SDGs, which can also be used as a search filter. However, the distribution of RIO articles across SDGs is uneven, as detailed in a recent editorial: for instance, more than 100 articles addressed SDG9 (Industry, innovation & infrastructure), while only one publication has been mapped to SDG1 (No poverty) so far.

Even though there might be logical explanations for this phenomenon, including funding biases or specific scholarly communication tendencies in some research fields, RIO’s team remains dedicated to its role as a harbinger of innovative open science practices and socially engaged research, and is eager to support the open publication of research on all SDGs.

So, RIO Journal is now inviting research outcomes – early, interim or final – addressing the four least represented SDGs in RIO’s content to date (with the current number indicated in parentheses):

  • SDG1: No poverty (1)
  • SDG7: Affordable & clean energy (2)
  • SDG5: Gender equality (4)
  • SDG2: Zero hunger (4)
All publications in RIO Journal are mapped to one or more SDGs.

The call will remain open until the end of 2021, where all accepted papers will enjoy a 50% discount on their publication charges (APCs), regardless of how many contributions RIO receives in the meantime. Eligible submissions encompass all article types generally accepted in RIO, as long as the journal’s editorial team confirms that they belong to the assigned SDG category.

As also highlighted in the editorial, RIO is currently experimenting with a more fine-grained mapping of its publications to the individual targets under each SDG. This was piloted with SDG 14 (Life below water). For instance, Target 14.a (Marine Biodiversity contributes to Economic Development of small/developing nations) is currently covered by 17 RIO articles. If you would like to get involved with mapping RIO articles to the Targets under other SDGs, please get in touch.

You can find more about RIO’s rationale behind introducing the SDGs mapping in the latest editorial or in this earlier blog post.

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Follow RIO Journal on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Further reading:

Be prepared: Prioritising invasive species for strategic prevention in Durban, South Africa

Durban Harbour, used for both commercial and recreational purposes, is an important hub of human activity. The harbour was found to be an important point of first introduction as well as a site for naturalisation for the three species highlighted in this study.
(Photos by Şerban Procheş /left/ and Carl Munsamy /right/)

While exploring the way alien species invade cities around the world, South African PhD student Ashlyn L. Padayachee (University of KwaZulu-Natal, UKZN) and her supervisors, Serban Proches (UKZN) and John Wilson (SANBI and Stellenbosch University) remember suddenly being stricken.

What they realised was that while cities were gradually starting to prepare for climate change, their responses to invasions were rather reactive. Even though management focused on widespread invasive species, which were currently having the most negative impacts on native biodiversity, the researchers noted that if those decision makers had only targeted the next highly damaging invaders ahead of their arrival, the associated costs would have greatly decreased.

Consequently, the team developed a methodology, based on three key aspects: priority species, points of first introduction and sites of naturalisation, in order to identify the most probable and concerning invasive species for Durban (eThekwini in KwaZulu Natal), a coastal city in South Africa. Furthermore, their work, published in the open-access journal Neobiota provides decision makers from around the world with a new tool, that is easy to use and adjustable to the specificity of different cities.

Firstly, the researchers identified cities with a similar climate to Durban and used existing alien species watch lists, environmental criteria and introduction pathways to identify species, which are not present in South Africa, but are considered of unacceptable risk of invasion. The team continued by figuring out which of those selected species are likely to have pathways facilitating their introduction to the city and developed a climatic suitability model for each. Finally, the scientists linked the climate and pathway information, so that they could identify sites within Durban to be considered as a focus for the contingency planning for particular species.

As a result, the authors identified three alien species as priorities for Durban: Alligator weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides), American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) and the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta).


River systems are ideal habitats for Alligator weed. River systems adjacent to points of first introduction were identified as important sites of first naturalisation of this species.
(Photo by Şerban Procheş)

In terms of points of introductions, the data highlighted the Durban Harbour, especially for the red imported fire ant. Plant nurseries and garden centres, as well as pet and aquarium shops were also identified as important sites for the three studied species. Additionally, suitable habitats located near the points of introduction, such as river systems and built infrastructure, were found in need of monitoring.


The red imported fire ant is usually found in close proximity to human dwellings, which provide ideal habitats for this species. Built infrastructure, especially those adjacent to the Durban Harbour, was identified as an important site of its naturalisation.
(Photo by Şerban Procheş)

In conclusion, the implementation of prioritisation schemes to consider the three aspects (species, pathways, and sites) allows managers to focus resources on those species which pose a greater risk of invasion and impact.

“This will only ever be one part of a broad range of biosecurity efforts, but it is one where, we believe, we can be prepared,” comment the authors.

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Original source:

Padayachee AL, Proches S, Wilson JRU (2019) Prioritising potential incursions for contingency planning: pathways, species, and sites in Durban (eThekwini), South Africa as an example. NeoBiota 47: 1-21. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.47.31959

New commentary on the famous ‘Warning to Humanity’ paper brings up global inequalities

Dubbed as ‘the most talked about paper’, the cautionary publication is suggested to have omitted a non-western view on inequality that impedes global sustainability

By pointing out the western lifestyle is not “the norm and end goal of societal evolution”, the research team of Dr Mohsen Kayal (University of Perpignan, France) contributes to the debate on the urgency of achieving sustainability, as ignited by the largely publicised article “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice” published in BioScience in 2017. Their Response paper in the open-access journal Rethinking Ecology emphasizes that societies in developing countries are often more dependent on natural resources, while least responsible for the ecological crisis.

While expressing explicit support and endorsement for the call made in the original paper, the team argue that several of its recommendations “address symptoms rather than root causes”, while steering away from historical patterns and underlying drivers of the global socio-economic system, namely those relating to wealth inequality, human demography, and food production.

According to the researchers, the desired universal sustainability cannot be achieved in a situation of inequitable wealth distribution. They highlight the link between the consumerism and neocolonialism in the western society and the environmental declines. Meanwhile, communities in the developing world are much more vulnerable to ecological disasters and their homelands are being overexploited and compromised for the production of a major part of the commodities sold around the world.

Inequitable distribution is also evident in the ecological footprint of the western world as opposed to poorer regions. The team of Dr Mohsen Kayal question the appeal made in the Warning to Humanity paper that restricting birth rates is of primary concern when it comes to mitigating the anthropogenic effect on the planet. Rather, they argue that it is the excessive resource consumption and ecosystem-destructive practices observed in the western lifestyle that need to be prioritized.

Citing the 2017 data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the authors note that there is indeed enough food being produced to meet the needs of even more people on Earth than there currently are. However, it is again the unequal distribution of resources that results in both hunger and obesity. In the meantime, the replacement of the current industrial model of agriculture with a suite of environmentally friendly practices (e.g. cover crops, diverse crop rotations), the adoption of ecologically-based farming and well-managed grazing could preserve soils and their properties, while also increasing yields, resilience to climate change and socio-economic development.

“Sustainability can only be achieved through prioritizing global ethics, including universal equality and respect for all forms of life,” conclude the authors of the Response paper. “Sustainable solutions to Earth’s socio-ecological crisis already exist, however humanity still needs to realize that pursuing the same practices that created these problems is not going to solve them.”

Global Resource Trade

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Original source:

Kayal M, Lewis H, Ballard J, Kayal E (2019) Humanity and the 21st century’s resource gauntlet: a commentary on Ripple et al.’s article “World scientists’ warning to humanity: a second notice”. Rethinking Ecology 4: 21-30. https://doi.org/10.3897/rethinkingecology.4.32116