Science Journals Becoming Treasure Maps For Poachers

Jian-Huan Yang, Conservation Officer at the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden in Hong Kong, recently discovered two new gecko species in China.  In the “publish or perish” world of academia and research, Yang discovered, much to his dismay, that publication of his articles may be contributing to the very species he discovered perishing from the planet.

Recently, commercial collectors have been using reports in scientific journals as tools to track down new species so they can sell them for a profit on the exotic pet trade market.

"Shortly after, some collectors began collecting these geckos for sales using the location information in my papers," Yang told Live Science in an email. "It has been saddening to see a constant supply of wild-caught individuals of both species are now available on the pet trade and even traded overseas to the United States and Europe."

In 2006, four researchers wrote a letter to Science explaining that the race to document and understand previously unknown species "in the face of a “global biodiversity crisis” has turned studies into "a treasure map for commercial collectors." According to estimates, the exotic pet trade is a multi-billion-dollar industry, second only to black market drugs and weapons. It's a $15 billion dollar a year business in the United States, alone, with breeders and dealers selling animals over the Internet or in trade magazines.

Since being scientifically described in the 1990s, an Indonesian turtle Chelodina mccordi and a gecko (Goniurosaurus luii) have fetched pet trade prices ranging from $1,500 to $2,000 apiece. The demand is so high that C. mccordi is almost extinct in the wild, and G. luii has gone locally extinct.

Because little information exists on the habits of exotic reptiles in the wild, animals kept as “pets” frequently suffer from nutritional deficiencies. Meeting their physical and behavioral needs in captivity may be impossible. According to a German-Austrian study, the average lifespan for captive reptiles is 3.9 years for terrapins and tortoises, 2.5 years for lizards, and 3.6 years for snakes. Broader analysis supports the theory that the majority of reptiles do not even survive the first year in captivity.

Because the life expectancy of a captive reptile is so low and the animals themselves suffer, Born Free USA recommends that reptiles not be kept as “pets” by the general public. Reptiles should remain in their native habitat where they are able to roam and be free from captivity.

Educating the public appears to be the most effective way to remove the demand for wild animals. As long as there is a black market demand, the delicate ecosystems from which they are taken – and, of course, the animals - will suffer.


Read more about the exotic pet trade here:

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