Europeans are major smugglers of Southern African reptiles

Europeans are major smugglers of Southern African reptiles
Published: 15 March 2018 (797 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

Chiwenga fails to issue termination letters to nurses

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 137 Views

Suspected thief bashed to death

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 121 Views

Fired nurses in panic mode

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 139 Views

Mukanya was home sick

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 96 Views

WhatsApp messages lead to divorce

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 118 Views

Traffic cop implicates bosses in fake fines book scam

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 132 Views

41 senior cops transferred

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 116 Views

Chamisa says military must be in the barracks

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 112 Views

Zanu-PF politburo meets to avert implosion

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 116 Views

'Mugabe remains our hero'

by Staf reporter | 20 April 2018 | 86 Views

Chiwenga fail to issue termination letters to nurses

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 84 Views

Mugabe humiliates Mukonori?

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 129 Views

Tsvangirai's death could not have come at a worse time

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 99 Views

Boris Johnson hosts Sibusiso Moyo for roundtable talks

by Agencies | 20 April 2018 | 90 Views

Biti sees potential $100 billion economy

by Bloomberg | 20 April 2018 | 88 Views

Zimbabwe opposition can win 'if it overwhelms polls'

by Carien Du Plessis | 20 April 2018 | 114 Views

Bigwigs corruption continues unabated

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 95 Views

Mnangagwa administration priorities warped

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 67 Views

Chinamasa, Gumbo self-enrichment plan exposed

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 101 Views

Zimbabwe denied Commonwealth observer status

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 78 Views

Mnangagwa stops funding Grace Mugabe's private school

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 85 Views

James Maridadi pens open letter to VP Constantine Chiwenga

by James Maridadi | 20 April 2018 | 125 Views

Mujuru diamond mine battle erupts

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 65 Views

MDC-T activist assaulted, kidnapped by soldiers

by Simbarashe Sithole | 20 April 2018 | 144 Views

MDC leader Welshman Ncube blasts govt for firing nurses

by Stephen Jakes | 20 April 2018 | 119 Views

Wenger leaves Arsenal

by Staf reporter | 20 April 2018 | 155 Views

Chiwenga to finish off 'running coward' Mnangagwa's presidential term?

by Wilson Mahlafuna Sibanda & Khohliso Maqhoba | 20 April 2018 | 303 Views

Government response to Nurses' strike is wrong

by Dumisani Mpofu | 20 April 2018 | 91 Views

'The rabbit killed my 8 children, husband'

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 183 Views

Abortion teacher fired

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 137 Views

Father, son in fight over 'prostitute'

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 147 Views

Chiyangwa exposed in 'Fifa lie' storm

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 121 Views

Women in street fight over footie star

by Staff reporter | 20 April 2018 | 160 Views

'Hands off married man' - Magistrate warns smallhouse

by Staf reporter | 20 April 2018 | 138 Views