Thousands of reptile species threatened by under-regulated global trade
The authors recommend a trade under a precautionary scenario governed by a Positive List of tradable species with adequate population data to ensure trade does not pose a major risk to their survival. Otherwise, small-ranged and endemic species may be the next victims of the ongoing biodiversity crisis.
Wildlife trade is a key driver of the biodiversity crisis. Unregulated, or under-regulated wildlife trade can lead to unsustainable exploitation of wild populations. International efforts to regulate wildlife mostly miss ‘lower-value’ species, such as those imported as pets, resulting in limited knowledge of trade in groups like reptiles. Here we generate a dataset on web-based private commercial trade of reptiles to highlight the scope of the global reptile trade. We find that over 35% of reptile species are traded online. Three quarters of this trade is in species that are not covered by international trade regulation. These species include numerous endangered or range-restricted species, especially hotspots within Asia. Approximately 90% of traded reptile species and half of traded individuals are captured from the wild. Exploitation can occur immediately after scientific description, leaving new endemic species especially vulnerable. Pronounced gaps in regulation imply trade is having unknown impacts on numerous threatened species. Gaps in monitoring demand a reconsideration of international reptile trade regulations. We suggest reversing the status-quo, requiring proof of sustainability before trade is permitted.