The transnational smuggling of live animals poses a threat to Australia’sbiodiversity, conservation, environmental biosecurity, animal welfare, andhuman health and wellbeing.

In a study published in Conservation Letters , researchers at the Universityof Adelaide compared the illegal smuggling of live reptiles—including lizards,snakes and turtles—into Australia, to the unregulated pet trade of reptiles inthe United States (US), to understand better the drivers of illegal wildlifetrade, and develop a framework for anticipating future trends in wildlifesmuggling.

The researchers suggest the unregulated reptile trade in the U.S. and otherWestern countries, has a major influence on Australians’ desire for illegalreptiles.

Lead author, Dr. Oliver Stringham from the University of Adelaide’s School ofBiological Sciences, said, “There has been considerable attention paid to thescale of the wildlife trade in non-Western countries, but much less on largeWestern markets, even though trade has been happening in Western countries,such as the U.S., for a long time.

“The U.S. markets drive many aspects of Westernized culture, such as fashion,music and fast-food, so the influence of the U.S. on reptile pet trade has thecapacity to be substantial.”

In the study, the researchers modeled the probability of reptile species beingsmuggled into Australia using U.S. trade data, U.S. reptile pet storeinventories, and other reptile trait, taxonomy and trade-based variables.

The researchers found of the 75 reptile species reported as smuggled intoAustralia between 1999 and 2016, all but one were also found in theunregulated U.S. trade. On average, a species was first smuggled to Australiaaround six years after first appearing in the U.S..

Three reptile families had the highest probability of being smuggled. Theywere, Elapidae (such as cobras and mambas; all venomous), Kinosternidae (smallturtles such as mud turtles and musk turtles), and Testudinidae (tortoises).

Species listed in Appendices I of the Convention on International Trade inEndangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora, had a higher smugglingprobability compared to species not listed, after controlling for othervariables.

“It is our interpretation that the recent demand for illegal species inAustralia has therefore originated from species already present in the trade rather than new emerging or exotic species,” said Dr. Stringham.

“We provide the first evidence that market-level indicators of legal wildlifetrade in the U.S. have a strong predictive power to discern which species aresmuggled illegally into Australia.

“Our research also provides the first risk watch-list of desirable reptilespecies trafficked into Australia, and a framework for anticipating futuretrends in wildlife smuggling.”

Associate Professor Phill Cassey from the University of Adelaide’s InvasionScience & Wildlife Ecology Lab said, “Western countries play a prominent rolein the legal and illegal wildlife trade, but particularly in exotic petkeeping.

“We hope these findings assist to assess and anticipate the risk of exoticlive animals being smuggled into Australia and other Western countries, andwill encourage further research into the patterns and drivers of live animalsmuggling.”

Source: Kelly Brown, University of Adelaide

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