Are zoos inadvertently complicit in wildlife trade? The case of a rare Borneo lizard

Should zoos display legally protected species that have been smuggled out of their range countries? A new study suggests that a pause and rethink may be needed, as it reports that accredited zoos have acquired a rare and legally protected reptile, the earless monitor lizard endemic to Borneo, without any evidence that the animals were legally exported.

The earless monitor lizard occurs only on the island of Borneo and has been described as a “miniature Godzilla” and “the Holy Grail of Herpetology.” Discovered by western scientists almost 150 years ago, for most of this period the species was known largely from pickled specimens in natural history collections, and wasn’t recorded from the wild for decades. In the 1970s, the three countries that make up Borneo – Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei – added it to their protected species lists. This means that the species can neither be legally traded within these countries, nor legally exported out of them.

Earless monitor lizard. Photo by Chien C. Lee, Wild Borneo.

Despite legal protection and lack of export permissions, reptile enthusiasts and unscrupulous traders have long been smuggling small numbers of earless monitor lizards out of Indonesia and Malaysia, eventually bringing them to Europe. This greatly accelerated in 2012, when the species’ rediscovery was announced in a scientific journal. In 2016, all 183 countries that are signatory to the Convention on international trade in endangered species agreed to regulate global trade in earless monitor lizards in order to limit the negative effects of smuggling on wild populations. Agreed export numbers were set at zero.

Enforcing the laws has proven to be challenging, however, and to date only two smuggling attempts have been thwarted. In both cases, German smugglers were apprehended at Indonesian airports while attempting to move respectively eight and seventeen earless monitor lizards out of the country.

The first zoo that proudly announced it had obtained earless monitor lizards was Japan’s iZoo in 2013. This zoo is not accredited, and the ways in which the animals were obtained remain questionable. In Europe, the first zoos to openly display earless monitor lizards were located in Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic. The animals were obtained from what zoos referred to as “private individuals” or “dedicated hobby breeders”, and, in one instance, from iZoo. Just like in Japan, how these animals ended up in Europe is questionable, but perhaps not illegal – and it is evident that no export permits were ever issued.

In recent years, more and more zoos in Europe, and since the beginning of this year also in the United States, have started displaying earless monitor lizards. Some cases were part of zoo exchanges, others were obtained from private individuals, and a handful were placed in zoos by authorities after they were seized, but it is clear that many were at one point illegally exported out of Indonesia, Malaysia or Brunei, or were illegally imported into non-range countries.

The acquisition of these protected lizards by zoos is neither in line with the intentions of national laws of their countries of origin, nor with international wildlife trade regulations. Moreover, it is diametrically opposed to the commitments the international zoo community has made to address illegal wildlife trade.

“To me, the current situation concerning the purchasing and proudly displaying of earless monitor lizards by accredited zoos can be compared with a road safety organisation posting online videos of its CEO doing wheelies on a motorbike and then adding that it was done on a private road where neither wearing a helmet nor having a driver’s licence is required,” said Vincent Nijman of the Oxford Wildlife Trade Research Group, author of the study that was published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation. “Both may be legal in a technical sense, but the optics are not good.”

“Modern, scientifically managed zoos are increasingly organising themselves with set ethical values and binding standards which go beyond national legislation on conservation and sustainability, but, unfortunately, this still only counts for a small proportion of zoos worldwide,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Executive Director of Monitor Research Conservation Society. “Zoos that continue to obtain animals that have been illegally acquired, directly or indirectly, are often fuelling the illegal wildlife trade, supporting organised crime networks and possibly contributing to the decline in some species.”

Seven years ago, the price for a single earless monitor lizard was in the order of EUR 8,000 to 10,000 , so any zoo or hobbyist wanting to have one or more pairs had to make a serious financial commitment. These high prices put a restriction on the number of people that wanted to acquire them and could afford them. It probably also gave potential buyers a tacit reminder that the trade was illicit. In recent years, however, prices have come down, to less than EUR 1,000. Now that earless monitor lizards are more affordable, and with accredited zoos giving a sense of legitimacy, Nijman is concerned that it might become more and more acceptable to keep these rare animals as pets.

“When I grew up in the 1970s, it was still perfectly acceptable for what we now see as accredited zoos to regularly buy rare and globally threatened birds, mammals and reptiles from commercial animal traders. Few questions were asked about the legitimacy of this animal trade. This has dramatically changed for the better, and now many of the animals we see in zoos today have been bred in captivity, either in the zoo itself, or in partner zoos”, Nijman said. He added that in many ways zoos are a force for good in the global challenge to preserve species and conserve habitats. “It is imperative that these efforts are genuinely adopted by all in the zoo community, and, when there is doubt about the legitimacy of animals in trade, that a cautionary approach is adopted.”

Original source:

Nijman V (2021) Zoos consenting to the illegal wildlife trade – the earless monitor lizard as a case study. Nature Conservation 44: 69-79. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.44.65124

Wildlife trade threats: The importance of genetic data in saving an endangered species

In a new study, published in the scientific journal Nature Conservation, a research team analyses the genetic diversity of the endangered Four-eyed turtle, a species that has fallen victim to the growing wildlife trade in Vietnam. Having identified several distinct lineages in field-collected and local trade samples, the scientists warn that confiscated animals must not be released back into the wild before they have their origin traced back to the locality they have been captured.

In Southeast Asia, wildlife trade is running rampant, and Vietnam plays a key role in combating wildlife trafficking.

Since the country opened its market to China in the late 1980s, a huge amount of wildlife and its products has been transported across the border every year. Species have also been exported to other Asian countries, Europe and the USA. Furthermore, in recent years, Vietnam has also supported the transit of pangolin scales and other wildlife products from across Asia and even as far as Africa all the way to China and other destinations.

Additionally, in line with the expanding wealthy middle class, consumption of wildlife and its products has risen dramatically in Vietnam. As a consequence, the country takes on all three major roles in the international wildlife trade: export, transit and consumption.

Four-eyed turtle captured in Pu Mat National Park, central Vietnam
Credit: Asian Turtle Program
License: CC-BY 4.0

Freshwater turtles and tortoises make up a large part of the international trade between Vietnam and China and the domestic trade within Vietnam. Meanwhile, due to the increasing use of social networks, wildlife trade is shifting to online-based platforms, thereby further facilitating access to threatened species. Consequently, the Vietnamese pond turtle and the Swinhoe’s softshell turtle, for example, are already on the brink of extinction. Despite the repeated recent survey efforts of conservation biologists, no viable populations of their species have been found.

One of the effective approaches to the conservation of the most endangered species is to have confiscated animals released back into the wild, following the necessary treatment and quarantine, or transferring them to conservation breeding programmes. However, in either of the cases, it is necessary to know about the origin of the animals, because the release of individuals at sites they are not naturally adapted to, or at localities inhabited by populations of incompatible genetic makeup can have negative effects both on the gene pool and ecosystem health.

In the present research article, published in the peer-reviewed open-access scientific journal Nature Conservation, turtle conservationist and molecular biologist Dr. Minh D. Le of Vietnam National University (Hanoi) and the American Museum of Natural History (New York), in collaboration with the Cologne Zoo (Germany) and the Asian Turtle Program – Indo-Myanmar Conservation (Hanoi), the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources (Hanoi) and Hanoi Procuratorate University (Hanoi), studies the geographic distribution of genetic diversity of the endangered Four-eyed turtle (Sacalia quadriocellata). The species, whose common name relates to the four eye-resembling spots, located on the back of its head, has traditionally been neglected by scientific and conservation efforts.

Having analysed field-collected and local trade samples along with confiscated animals, the researchers concluded that there is a significant number of genetically distinct lineages distributed in Vietnam and China, and that local trade samples could provide key data for resolving the genetic patterns of the species. They remind that Four-eyed turtles are getting more and more difficult to find in the wild.

Two four-eyed turtles captured in Pu Mat National Park, central Vietnam
Credit: Asian Turtle Program
License: CC-BY 4.0

On the other hand, the study highlights that confiscated animals are of various origin and, therefore, must not be released arbitrarily where they have been seized. Instead, the researchers recommend that captive programmes establish regular genetic screenings to determine the origin of confiscated turtles, so that the risk of crossing different lineages is eliminated. Such genetic screenings are of crucial importance to solve the current issues with biodiversity conservation in the country and the region.

Like other developing countries, Vietnam does not have any specific guidelines on how to release confiscated animals back into the wild yet. This and other similar studies emphasise the role of the government in the implementation of stricter laws and regulation,

said Dr. Minh D. Le, lead author of the study.

This research once more underscores the IUCN’s One Plan Approach, which aims to develop integrative strategies to combine in situ and ex situ measures with expert groups, for the purposes of species conservation,

added Dr. Thomas Ziegler of the Cologne Zoo.

The research was funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, the Partnership for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER), the United States Agency for International Development, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Vietnam’s Ministry of Science and Technology and IDEAWILD.

Trapping four-eyed turtles in Pu Mat National Park, central Vietnam
Credit: Asian Turtle Program
License: CC-BY 4.0

Original source:

Le MD, McCormack TEM, Hoang HV, Duong HT, Nguyen TQ, Ziegler T, Nguyen HD, Ngo HT (2020) Threats from wildlife trade: The importance of genetic data in safeguarding the endangered Four-eyed Turtle (Sacalia quadriocellata). Nature Conservation 41: 91-111. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.41.54661

Contact: 

Dr Minh Duc Le, Vietnam National University
Email: le.duc.minh@hus.edu.vn

Australia’s wish list of exotic pets

In a new study, published in the peer-reviewed open-access scholarly journal Neobiota, scientists estimated the desire of Australians to own non-native and/or illegal alien pets and the major trends in this practice. In addition, the team suggests ways to improve biosecurity awareness in the country.

Juvenile green iguanas for sale at Repticon Trading Convention 2018 in Palm Springs, Florida
Photo by Adam Toomes

Unsustainable trade of species is a major pathway for the introduction of invasive alien species at distant localities and at higher frequencies. It is also a major driver of over-exploitation of wild native populations. In a new study, published in the peer-reviewed open-access scholarly journal Neobiota, scientists estimated the desire of Australians to own non-native and/or illegal alien pets and the major trends in this practice. In addition, the team suggests ways to improve biosecurity awareness in the country.

Over the last two decades, Australia has been experiencing an increased amount of non-native incursions from species prominent in the international pet trade, such as rose-ringed parakeets, corn snakes and red-eared sliders. On many occasions, these animals are smuggled into the country only to escape or be released in the wild.

In general, the Australian regulations on international pet trade are highly stringent, in order to minimise biosecurity and conservation risks. Some highly-desirable species represent an ongoing conservation threat and biosecurity risk via the pet-release invasion pathway. However, lack of consistent surveillance of alien pets held, legally or otherwise, in Australia remains the main challenge. While there are species which are not allowed to be imported, they are legal for domestic trade within the country. Pet keepers have the capacity to legally or illegally acquire desired pets if they are not accessible through importation, and the number of such traders is unquantified.

Since keeping most of the alien pets in Australia is either illegal or not properly regulated, it is really difficult to quantify and assess the public demand for alien wildlife.

A juvenile ball python for sale at Repticon Trading Convention 2018 in Palm Springs, Florida
Photo by Adam Toomes

“We obtained records of anonymous public enquiries to the Australian Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment relating to the legality of importation of various alien taxa. We aimed to investigate whether species desired in Australia were biased towards being threatened by extinction, as indicated by broader research on pet demand or towards being invasive species elsewhere, which would indicate trade-related biosecurity risks”,

shares the lead author Mr. Adam Toomes from the University of Adelaide.

According to the research team’s analysis, pets desired by Australians are significantly biased towards threatened species, invasive species and species prominent in the U.S. pet trade.

“This novel finding is of great concern for biosecurity agencies because it suggests that a filtering process is occurring where illegally smuggled animals may already be “pre-selected” to have the characteristics that are correlated with invasive species,”

warns Mr. Adam Toomes.

However, the bias towards species already traded within the U.S. suggests that there is potential to use this as a means of predicting future Australian desire, as well as the acquisition of pets driven by desire. Future research from the Invasion Science & Wildlife Ecology Group at The University of Adelaide will investigate whether Australian seizures of illegal pets can be predicted using U.S. trade data.

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Original source:

Toomes A, Stringham OC, Mitchell L, Ross JV, Cassey P (2020) Australia’s wish list of exotic pets: biosecurity and conservation implications of desired alien and illegal pet species. NeoBiota 60: 43-59. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.60.51431

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Follow Neobiota journal on Twitter and Facebook.

Illegal trade with terrestrial vertebrates in markets and households of Laos

Extensive surveys on wildlife markets and households in the Khammouane Province of Laos showed overlaps between the most traded species at wildlife markets and those of highest conservation importance.

It’s not a surprise to anyone that numerous vertebrate species are being sold at different wildlife markets, but at the moment there is still no comprehensive understanding of how much people are involved in those actions in Laos (Lao PDR), nor what the impact on local wildlife populations really is.

East Asian bullfrogs with broken legs at a market in Laos
Photo by Dr Thomas Ziegler

The majority of Laotians live in rural areas and their income largely depends on wildlife. Since wildlife products are used as one of the major food sources, numerous species of terrestrial vertebrates are currently being offered at local markets.

Across the tropical regions, mammals and birds have been vanishing, with recent models estimating up to 83% decline by 2050. Furthermore, wild-caught reptiles have been reported from Southeast Asian wildlife markets for over 20 years, with Laos occupying the position of a very popular source.

Due to the large number of native endemic species, Lao PDR should assume the responsibility to introduce conservation measures to keep control over the predicted population declines. At the moment, the regulations on wildlife use and trade in Laos are mostly based on the Lao Wildlife and Aquatic Law, which, however, largely disregards international statuses of the species and other biological factors.

Slow loris (left), bats (top right) and squirrels (bottom right) offered at a food market in Laos
Photo by C.L. Ebert

Stricter and reinforced legislation is needed in the fields related to wildlife trade and consumption, since such practices are not only causing biodiversity loss, but also suggested to pose a great threat of wildlife-associated emergence of zoonotic parasites and pathogens to humans. As an immediate example, the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is primarily considered to be a consequence of human consumption of wild animals.

An international group of students and scientists, led by Professor Dr. Thomas Ziegler at the University of Cologne and the Cologne Zoo (Germany), has conducted a number of extensive surveys on wildlife markets (66 observational surveys at 15 trade hubs) and households (63 households at 14 sites) in the Khammouane Province of Laos. The key question of the survey was: “Which species are traded and to what extent?” The results of the study are published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation.

The surveys showed overlaps between the most traded species at wildlife markets and those of highest conservation importance.

As for the households, approximately 90% of the surveyed respondents confirmed the use of wildlife. For the majority of the population, wildlife harvesting was found to be important for their livelihood and trapping activities were mostly aimed at self-consumption / subsistence. The reason for this could be explained by the prices of domesticated meat, which can be three times as higher as those of wildlife products.

A Buffy fish owl and a Chinese water dragon offered at a food market in Laos
Photos by K. Kasper and T. Ziegler

The demand for the species on the wildlife market remained the same over time, according to the opinions of 84,1% of respondents, while the availability of wild meats was reported to have decreased, due to increasing price.

“We recommend local authorities to assess the markets within the province capital Thakhek in particular, as they showed the highest quantity of wild meats. The markets at Namdik and Ban Kok turned out to be very active trade hubs for wildlife as well, regardless of the vertebrate group. The loss of certain species may cause a cascade of unforeseeable effects in the ecosystems. Therefore, the biodiversity of tropical Southeast Asian countries like Lao PDR must be protected,”

shares Dr. Thomas Ziegler.

To help the local population to avoid the crisis related to the change of activity and growing unemployment, scientists propose to introduce new activities in the region.

“Eco-tourism presents a great opportunity to combine conservation efforts and an alternative source of income. Former hunters with excellent knowledge of the forest and wildlife habitats can serve as professional wildlife tour guides or their involvement in the Village Forest Protection Group could help to protect natural resources in Laos”,

suggests Dr. Thomas Ziegler.

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Original source:

Kasper K, Schweikhard J, Lehmann M, Ebert CL, Erbe P, Wayakone S, Nguyen TQ, Le MD, Ziegler T (2020) The extent of the illegal trade with terrestrial vertebrates in markets and households in Khammouane Province, Lao PDR. Nature Conservation 41: 25-45. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.41.51888

Reptile poaching in Balochistan (Pakistan) is on a decreasing trend but still troublesome

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.


A topographic map of southwestern Balochistan showing visit sites in Chagai, Nushki, Panjgur, Kharan and Washuk districts.
Credit: Rafaqat Masroor
License: CC-BY 4.0

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”,

share Dr. Masroor.

A total number of illegally poached reptiles, recorded during the investigation, results in 5,369 specimens representing 19 species. All of them had already been declared Protected under Schedule-III of the Balochistan Provincial Wildlife Act.

A view of live reptiles. Lytorhynchus maynardi and Eryx tataricus speciosus, the two rarely encountered snakes inside the locally-made boxes.
Credit: Rafaqat Masroor
License: CC-BY 4.0

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.

 Number of specimens collected against the number of
individuals (illegal collectors).
Credit: Rafaqat Masroor
License: CC-BY 4.0

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.

Contact:

Dr. Rafaqat Masroor
Email: rafaqat.masroor78@gmail.com

Original source:

Masroor R, Khisroon M, Jablonski D (2020) A case study on illegal reptile poaching from Balochistan, Pakistan. Herpetozoa 33: 67-75. https://doi.org/10.3897/herpetozoa.33.e51690

A new species of black endemic iguanas in Caribbeans is proposed for urgent conservation

A newly discovered endemic species of melanistic black iguana (Iguana melanoderma), discovered in Saba and Montserrat islands, the Lesser Antilles (Eastern Caribbean) appears to be threatened by unsustainable harvesting (including pet trade) and both competition and hybridization from escaped or released invasive alien iguanas from South and Central America. Scientists call for urgent conservation measures in the article, recently published in the open-access journal Zookeys.

A newly discovered endemic species of melanistic black iguana (Iguana melanoderma), discovered in Saba and Montserrat islands, the Lesser Antilles (Eastern Caribbean), appears to be threatened by unsustainable harvesting (including pet trade) and both competition and hybridization from escaped or released invasive alien iguanas from South and Central America. International research group calls for urgent conservation measures in the article, recently published in the open-access journal Zookeys.

So far, there have been three species of iguana known from The Lesser Antilles: the Lesser Antillean iguana (Iguana delicatissima), a species endemic to the northernmost islands of the Lesser Antilles; and two introduced ones: the common iguana (Iguana iguana iguana) from South America and the green iguana (Iguana rhinolopha) from Central America.

The newly described species is characterised with private microsatellite alleles, unique mitochondrial ND4 haplotypes and a distinctive black spot between the eye and the ear cavity (tympanum). Juveniles and young adults have a dorsal carpet pattern, the colouration is darkening with aging (except for the anterior part of the snout). 

A basking iguana optimizing after different trials its warming by a curved position when the sun is low on the horizon on the Windward coast of Saba.
Сredit: M. Breuil
License: CC-BY 4.0

It has already occurred before in Guadeloupe that Common Green Iguana displaced the Lesser Antilles iguanas through competition and hybridization which is on the way also in the Lesser Antilles. Potentially invasive common iguanas from the Central and South American lineages are likely to invade other islands and need to be differentiated from the endemic melanistic iguanas of the area.

The IUCN Red List lists the green iguana to be of “Least Concern”, but failed to differentiate between populations, some of which are threatened by extinction. With the new taxonomic proposal, these endemic insular populations can be considered as a conservation unit with their own assessments.

“With the increase in trade and shipping in the Caribbean region and post-hurricane restoration activities, it is very likely that there will be new opportunities for invasive iguanas to colonize new islands inhabited by endemic lineages”,

shares the lead researcher prof. Frédéric Grandjean from the University of Poitiers (France).
Iguana melanoderma sunbathing at dawn on the Windward coast of Saba.
Сredit: M. Breuil
License: CC-BY 4.0

Scientists describe the common melanistic iguanas from the islands of Saba and Montserrat as a new taxon and aim to establish its relationships with other green iguanas. That can help conservationists to accurately differentiate this endemic lineage from invasive iguanas and investigate its ecology and biology population on these two very small islands that are subject to a range of environmental disturbances including hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

“Priority actions for the conservation of the species Iguana melanoderma are biosecurity, minimization of hunting, and habitat conservation. The maritime and airport authorities of both islands must be vigilant about the movements of iguanas, or their sub-products, in either direction, even if the animals remain within the same nation’s territory. Capacity-building and awareness-raising should strengthen the islands’ biosecurity system and could enhance pride in this flagship species”,

concludes Prof. Grandjean.

The key stakeholders in conservation efforts for the area are the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA), the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF), the Montserrat National Trust (MNT) and the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF), which, the research team hope, could take measures in order to protect the flagship insular iguana species, mainly against alien iguanas.

Geographical distribution of the three iguana groups identified by Lazell (1973) in the 1960s and new taxonomic proposition.
Credit: Breuil et al. (2020)
License: CC-BY 4.0

***

Original source:

Breuil M, Schikorski D, Vuillaume B, Krauss U, Morton MN, Corry E, Bech N, Jelić M, Grandjean F (2020) Painted black: Iguana melanoderma (Reptilia, Squamata, Iguanidae) a new melanistic endemic species from Saba and Montserrat islands (Lesser Antilles). ZooKeys 926: 95-131. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.926.48679

Contact:

Frédéric Grandjean 
Email: frederic.grandjean@univ-poitiers.fr

Tiger geckos in Vietnam could be the next species sold into extinction, shows a new survey

The endemic reptiles are already proposed to be listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

While proper information about the conservation status of tiger gecko species is largely missing, these Asian lizards are already particularly vulnerable to extinction, as most of them have extremely restricted distribution. Furthermore, they have been facing severe declines over the last two decades, mostly due to overcollection for the international exotic pet market. Such is the case of the Cat Ba Tiger Gecko, whose tiny populations can only be found on Cat Ba Island and a few islands in the Ha Long Bay (Vietnam).

In their study, a Vietnamese-German research team, led by PhD candidate Hai Ngoc Ngo of the Vietnam National Museum of Nature in Hanoi, provide an overview of the evidence for domestic and international trade in tiger gecko species and update the information about the abundance and threats impacting the subpopulations of the Vietnamese Cat Ba Tiger Gecko in Ha Long Bay.

By presenting both direct and online observations, interviews and existing knowledge, the scientists point out that strict conservation measures and regulations are urgently needed for the protection and monitoring of all tiger geckos. The research article is published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation.

Cat Ba tiger gecko (Goniurosaurus catbaensis) in its natural habitat. Photo by Hai Ngoc Ngo.

Tiger geckos are a genus (Goniurosaurus) of 19 species native to Vietnam, China and Japan. Many of them can only be found within a single locality, mountain range or archipelago. They live in small, disjunct populations, where the population from Ha Long Bay is estimated at about 120 individuals. Due to demands in the international pet trade in the last two decades, as well as habitat destruction, some species are already considered extinct at the localities where they had originally been discovered.

However, it was not until very recently that some species of these geckos received attention from the regulatory institutions in their home countries, leading to the prohibition of their collection without a permit. Only eight tiger geckos have so far had their species conservation status assessed for the IUCN Red List. Not surprisingly, all of them were classified as either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. Nevertheless, none is currently listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which could be the only efficient and reliable method to monitor, regulate and police the trade of the species on a global scale.

“Tiger geckos are neither sufficiently protected by law nor part of conservation programmes, due to the lack of substantial knowledge on the species conservation status and probably due to the general lack of public as well as political interest in biodiversity conservation,” they explain. “To date, exact impacts of trade on the species cannot be identified, as data of legal trade are only recorded for species listed in the CITES Appendices”.

During their survey, the researchers tracked local traders in possession of wild-caught tiger geckos representing all five Vietnamese species en route to foreign exotic pet markets, mainly in the United States, the European Union and Japan. The species were also frequently found to be sold in local pet shops in Vietnam, as well as being offered via various online platforms and social media networks like Facebook.

Having spoken to local dealers in Vietnam, the team found the animals were traded via long and complex chains, beginning from local villagers living within the species’ distribution range, who catch the geckos and sell them to dealers for as little as US$4 – 5 per individual. Then, a lizard either ends up at a local shop with a US$7 – 25 price tag or is either transported by boat or by train to Thailand or Indonesia, from where it is flown to the major overseas markets and sold for anywhere between US$100 and 2,000, depending on its rarity. However, many of these delicate wild animals do not arrive alive at their final destination, as their travels include lengthy trips in overfilled boxes under poor conditions with no food and water.

Indeed, although the researchers reported a large quantity of tiger geckos labelled as captive-bred in Europe, it turns out that their availability is far from enough to meet the current demands.

In conclusion, the team provides a list of several recommendations intended to improve the conservation of the Asian geckos: (1) inclusion of all tiger geckos in the Appendices of CITES; (2) assessment of each species for the IUCN Red List; (3) concealment of any currently unknown localities; and (4) improvement/establishment of coordinated ex-situ breeding programmes for all species.

Signboard handed over to the Ha Long Bay Management Department to point to the threats and conservation need of the Cat Ba tiger gecko in English and Vietnamese languages.

The inclusion of all tiger gecko species from China and Vietnam in CITES Appendix II was recently proposed jointly by the European Union, China and Vietnam and is to be decided upon at the Conference of the parties (CoP18) in May-June 2019, held in Sri Lanka.

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Original source:

Ngo HN, Nguyen TQ, Phan TQ, van Schingen M, Ziegler T (2019) A case study on trade in threatened Tiger Geckos (Goniurosaurus) in Vietnam including updated information on the abundance of the Endangered G. catbaensisNature Conservation 33: 1-19. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.32.33590

Thousands of illegally traded wild animals at risk due to gaps in data

The fate of over 64,000 live wild animals officially reported to have been confiscated by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) enforcement agencies between 2010 and 2014 remains untraceable, according to a new report released by the University of Oxford Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and World Animal Protection.

In their publication in the open access journal Nature Conservation, the researchers document merely one in three partnering to CITES countries providing any data on seizures, and also highlight the importance of having this changed.

Although the reported number of confiscated animals is staggering, the researchers warn that these are likely to be only a fraction of the actual seizures. The study found two out of three countries did not report any live wildlife seizures, despite poaching of endangered species and supplying the illicit global wildlife trade being estimated to be worth between $8-10 billion per year.ball-python-ndc-6929

The figures have prompted calls for better reporting of seizures and what happens to confiscated live wild animals.

The ultimate fate of seized live wild animals is unknown, the researchers found. Once animals have been confiscated, national authorities must decide whether to: keep them in captivity, return them to the wild or euthanize them. CITES provides guidelines to aid this decision-making based on the conservation status and welfare needs of the animals.

However, information about the fate of these wild animals is not a formal CITES requirement and as a result, there are no official numbers on just how many were euthanized, placed in captivity or returned to the wild.

Researchers are concerned this lack of data is placing the well-being and survival of seized wildlife at risk – many wild animals could be re-entering the wildlife trafficking industry as they simply can’t be accounted for.

University of Oxford‘s Professor David Macdonald, senior researcher for the study, said:

“We fear this staggering number is just the tip of the iceberg. Only a relatively small proportion of wild animals involved with illegal trade are thought to be intercepted by enforcement agencies – confiscation records were completely missing for 70% of countries Party to CITES. Given the rapidly growing global trends in illegal wildlife trade activity, it is highly unlikely that no live wildlife seizures were made on their borders.

spur-thighed-tortoise-cites-ndc-7068“The records that were provided show that around 20% of all live wild animals reported as seized are currently considered to be threatened by extinction. We strongly recommend that the CITES trade database should include information on the fate of all live wild animal seizures, so we know what happens to these animals, and we can reduce the risk of them re-entering the illegal wildlife trade.”

World Animal Protection’s Dr Neil D’Cruze, lead researcher for the study, said:

“The illegal wildlife trade is a big, complex and dirty business. National authorities play a key role, facing some tough choices when they seize animals – whether they release them in the wild, place them in care in captivity or euthanize them.

“Improved data recording is critical to knowing what happens to each animal, and can help in looking at the challenges and issues enforcement agencies face in managing animals after seizure. Without this transparency, there’s a real possibility that endangered species may be put back into the hands of the same criminals whom they were taken from. We need to be able to account for these wild animals.

“If we’re really serious about protecting wildlife, action needs to be taken at all levels. It’s unfathomable that 70% of countries recorded no seizures when we know a global, multi-billion wildlife trafficking industry is flourishing.”

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The findings and recommendations of this research were presented at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) in Johannesburg, South Africa on 27 September 2016 during a side event focused on the confiscation of live wild animals organised by the Species Survival Network (SSN).wap-tipofaniceberg-infographic-a4-2-0-03

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Original source:

Citation: D’Cruze N, Macdonald DW (2016) A review of global trends in CITES live wildlife confiscations. Nature Conservation 15: 47-63. doi: 10.3897/natureconservation.15.10005