By Adam Cruise
The European Union has emerged as a major destination for illegally smuggled reptiles’ from southern Africa, posing a serious threat to their conservation.
A report released by the German organization, Pro Wildlife, revealed that wealthy European Union (EU) citizens were big collectors of rare reptiles such as live snakes, lizards and tortoises.
The report also revealed that one tortoise was being openly offered for sale at R35 000, and challenges the absence of legislation outside southern Africa to protect the hapless animals.
Most of the species are protected by South African or Namibian legislation and may not be removed from their natural environment, but once they reach Europe the trade becomes legal.
Southern Africa has the richest reptile diversity in Africa, which currently comprises of almost 500 species, almost double that of the Congo basin. Despite 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 to the fact that available information is incomplete and not easy to access.
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 the 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. “The illegal traders achieve high prices in this trade without having to fear any penalties after leaving the country of origin,” says Dr Sandra Altherr, a biologist at Pro Wildlife, specialising in small reptiles.
The report also shows that over a four year period, dozens of reptiles have been confiscated from OR Tambo international airport. Altherr further said, “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. Once they reach the EU, they are openly sold on markets and pet-trade fairs,” she said.
Altherr noted that the dealers preferred pregnant females, which enabled them to offer ‘captive-bred’ offspring a few months later. Altherr points out the 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.
She said however measures to tackle it at EU level had not yet been put in place.
“Based on our observations of the European pet market and we strongly recommend the EU to pass legislation which would make import, sale, and possession of stolen wildlife illegal,” she said.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015