Europeans are major smugglers of Southern African reptiles

Europeans are major smugglers of Southern African reptiles
Published: 15 March 2018 (2723 Views)
The European Union is a major destination for illegally smuggled live snakes, lizards and tortoises from southern Africa, posing a serious threat to their conservation. Wealthy EU citizens are big collectors of rare reptiles, with one tortoise openly offered for sale at R35 000.

Most of the species are protected by South African or Namibian legislation. They may not be removed from their natural environment but once they reach Europe the trade becomes legal as there is no legislation outside southern Africa protecting them according to a report released by the German organization, Pro Wildlife.

Protected nationally but not internationally

Southern Africa has the richest reptile diversity in Africa, which currently comprises of almost 500 species, almost double that of the Congo basin. What’s more, southern Africa’s reptile fauna has a very high level of endemism – almost 80% are only found here and nowhere else in the world.

“Due to this fact,” says Michael Adams, a herpetologist at The Biodiversity Company, “many of our reptile species then become targets for the illegal pet trade.”

Unfortunately, even though many of the reptilian species are threatened or endangered, they tend to be overlooked in global conservation plans. According to the Southern African Reptile Conservation Assessment (SARCA) this is due, in part, to the fact that available information is incomplete and not easy to access. Existing distributional information for the region’s reptiles has not been adequately collated and integrated into a single database.

As a result, many reptiles from South Africa are not protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and therefore are also not protected under EU law.

“Because these species are not covered by CITES or the EU Wildlife trade regulation, there is currently no legal basis enabling authorities to act against this kind of wildlife trafficking,” says Dr Sandra Altherr, a biologist at Pro Wildlife specialising in small reptiles. “The illegal traders achieve high prices in this trade without having to fear any penalties after leaving the country of origin.”

Big Business

The reptiles, like the giant girdled-lizard (or Sungazer), the many-horned adder, the side-winding adder, as well as a range of geckoes and tortoises, are mostly rare with a very small distribution range, which makes them highly prone to over-exploitation.

Their rarity is reflected by the prices they fetch for the pet-trade in Europe, which is typically around R8,000 to R10,000 per animal. One extremely rare Kalahari tent tortoise (Psammobates oculiferus) is currently up for sale for over R35,000.

“Typically what happens is the more rare a species is the more value collectors find in them,” says Adam who adds: “Unfortunately in South Africa it is relatively easy for smugglers and poachers to find particular animals if they know where to look, and also relatively easy to smuggle them out of the country. Often reptiles are simply put in boxes and posted or couriered all over the world.” 

Adams says that over a four year period he received dozens of confiscated reptiles from OR Tambo, “but it is my personal impression that only a tiny percentage of smuggled reptiles were being discovered at the airport.”

“European citizens are among the main clients of smuggled reptiles,” says Altherr. “Once they reach the EU, they are openly sold on markets and pet-trade fairs.” Altherr says the dealers prefer pregnant females. “It enables them to offer ‘captive-bred’ offspring a few months later.”

The traders, mainly from Germany, Slovenia and Russia, create special online platforms and Facebook groups with the physical hand-over mostly done at European reptile trade shows such as last weekend’s exhibition in Hamm, Germany, the largest reptile trade fair in Europe.

According to Altherr, some dealers prefer not to have dedicated stands at the fair, since the fair prohibits the sale of venomous snakes, so they rather exchange the reptiles carried in their backpacks in nearby hotels.

Call to change EU legislation

Altherr points out this gap in EU legislation has been acknowledged in reports and documents from the European Commission, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and others, but measures to tackle it at EU level have not yet been put in place. “New EU legislation to address this loophole is clearly needed,” she says. “This could be modelled on the US Lacey Act, which provides a broad range of protections to any plant or species illegally harvested or taken in its country of origin.”

“Based on our observations of the European pet market,” she says, “we would strongly recommend the EU to pass legislation which would make import, sale, and possession of stolen wildlife illegal.”

Always use the free online Word to HTML converter to avoid messy code on your websites!


- conservationaction.co.za

 0

You May Like These Videos

Comments

There are no comments.

Latest stories

ZCTU calls for resignation of Minister Gumbo

by Stephen Jakes | 19 October 2018 | 159 Views

Mnangagwa has to deliver and, urgently too

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 195 Views

Zanu-PF dictatorship, ideological dominance

by Vivid Gwede | 19 October 2018 | 110 Views

ZCTU, why spare Bulawayo council over rates hike

by Conway Tutani | 19 October 2018 | 100 Views

Motlanthe Commission risks playing into Zanu-PF agenda

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 148 Views

Councils challenged to generate own income

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 90 Views

Zimbabwe gender parity misses 50% mark, says Mohadi

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 79 Views

Zanu-PF official, sangoma jailed over pangolin scales

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 101 Views

Mliswa mocks Gender Commission

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 96 Views

Police harass senior Masvingo journalist

by Stephen Jakes | 19 October 2018 | 79 Views

Zimbabwe gold exports decline by 21%

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 98 Views

Zimbabwe drops in World Economic Forum rankings

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 99 Views

Village Inn exonerates Supa Mandiwanzira

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 75 Views

Zimbabwe army killings probe hots up

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 96 Views

Mthuli Ncube's 2% tax sparks confusion

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 97 Views

'ConCourt ruling to open floodgates of demos'

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 90 Views

'Zimbabwe diesel demand strikingly increasing'

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 79 Views

Tsvangirai estate sued

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 99 Views

Drug shortages hit Bulawayo hospitals

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 72 Views

Beitbridge outlines modernisation plan

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 75 Views

Wicknell Chivayo applies for discharge

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 58 Views

'Mangudya deserves our support'

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 46 Views

Zim man to stand trial in another twitter-related arrest

by Stephe Jakes | 19 October 2018 | 47 Views

Chamisa seeing ghosts, says army

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 153 Views

Deputy Minister demand evidence on $15 billion externalization

by Stephen Jakes | 19 October 2018 | 75 Views

Military working with police in law maintenance - Matemadanda

by Stephen Jakes | 19 October 2018 | 73 Views

Deputy minister Madiro encourages people to report incest cases

by Stephen Jakes | 19 October 2018 | 56 Views

Professor Manyureke under attack over her questions

by Sithabile Mafu | 19 October 2018 | 83 Views

Komichi demands V11 forms from ZEC

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 190 Views

Pupil misses exam after teacher's lashing

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 130 Views

Teacher, money-changer, fuel dealer, thigh vendor - all rolled in one

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 150 Views

Tsvangirai's girlfriend on police wanted list

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 159 Views

Betting house drops Ecocash, bond notes

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 107 Views

Mistress slapped with $25,000 suit

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 92 Views

Man disfigures ex-wife's face

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 80 Views

Wife crushes prophet's jewels

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 99 Views

Zimbabwe post-poll violence probe team assesses damages

by Staff reporter | 19 October 2018 | 84 Views