Sunday, 16 September 2012

Indonesia’s Furtive Snake Trade- 9/9/12, NY Times - via Herp Digest

Rhinos may be poached for their precious horns and tigers for their skin and bones, but with reptiles it’s often about the allure of possessing live exotic animals. Illegal trading of reptiles and amphibians in Southeast Asia is aimed mainly at stocking the international pet trade.

Despite legislation in the region banning the practice, many of those animals wind up overseas in European terrariums or listed in online classifieds in the United States.

“Consumers play a huge role in this trade,” said Jessica Lyons, a master’s candidate in conservation biology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney who described the phenomenon in an article in the latest issue of the journal Conservation Biology.

Ms. Lyons set out to document the toll this demand is taking on reptiles and amphibians in Indonesia. Often described as “megadiverse,” Indonesia’s 17,000-plus islands still have relatively intact forests that house species found nowhere else.

Ms. Lyons traveled to Papua, West Papua and the Aru Islands. Over the course of seven months, she visited 15 local wildlife traders who were identified by word of mouth. She spoke extensively with the traders about their businesses and spent time observing the animals that they captured from nearby forests.

Her surveys turned up 5,370 amphibians and reptiles representing 52 species passing in and out of the traders’ establishments.

Indonesia follows the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, which forbids harvesting some species from the wild and sets quotas for others. Almost 20 percent of the species she saw were fully protected under the convention, and another 44 percent did not have an allocated quota, meaning that their collection and trade was also illegal, Mr. Lyons and her co-author, Daniel Natusch, wrote.

Most of the traders told Ms. Lyons that some species, especially the non-venomous pythons, were growing scarce as a result of overhunting but that their increasing rarity spurred demand and boosted prices.
“Collecting species restricted to small ranges will seriously impact their survival,” Ms. Lyons said. Past studies of island species, she pointed out, show that the pet trade has led to population declines for green pythons and Roti Island snake-necked turtles.
Many mammals and birds are also collected for the pet market. To curb the illegal side of the trade, Ms. Lyons suggests, Indonesia needs to acknowledge the problem and make a commitment to more strict enforcement of its laws. At a recent meeting of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, for example, the Indonesian representatives claimed that the country is not involved in the illegal snake trade.

Reptiles can be exported so long as they are “captive bred,” so traders route many illegally collected wild animals through farms in Jakarta or Bali to acquire the necessary paperwork. Many of the farms have no expertise in breeding or caring for the species they claim to produce, but government monitoring at these front farms is nearly nonexistent. “Therein lies the loophole,” Ms. Lyons said.

Once the animals leave Indonesia by plane or boat, those that survive the trip usually wind up in wealthier countries. Ms. Lyons raised the possibility that many Western collectors who buy them in shops or online “turn a blind eye” to the animals’ provenance.

“It’s time consumers step up to the mark and get serious about playing a more sustainable, active role in the conservation of the very species they appreciate,” she said.

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