Is CITES doing too little or too much to protect reptiles?

A new report suggests that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is endangering rare reptiles by permitting imports into Europe.

Native to northern Borneo, the earless monitor lizard is one of the world's rarest lizards. © reptiles4all / iStock
Native to northern Borneo, the earless monitor lizard is one of the world’s rarest lizards. © reptiles4all / iStock

The review, published in Biological Conservation, found that between 2004 and 2014 EU states reported the importing of almost 21 million live reptiles. Of 355 threatened species targeted by international collectors, 194 have no CITES protection.

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However, Chris Newman, 
of the Reptile and Exotic Pet Trade Association, called the report “deceitful, disingenuous 
and unhelpful.” Most traded reptiles in Europe are captive-bred, said Newman, which is reflected in falling prices and 
the domination of a handful 
of species in the pet trade. 
“In 2005 we imported 142,336 reptiles into Heathrow; in 2015 
it was 97,543,” he said.

But the report’s lead author said Newman was wrong. “Herpetoculturists commonly say the pet trade is not a detrimental issue to reptiles,” said Mark Auliya, of Germany’s Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Conservation, “but with many species, intentional collecting may present the major threat.”

One such is Borneo’s endemic earless monitor lizard, a fashionable pet species that has just received protection under CITES Appendix II, despite pressure from conservationists to place it on Appendix I.

Under Appendix II, illicit trade will be harder to control, said Auliya. But Newman believes the species would have been better served had the nation states of Borneo (Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei) been encouraged to voluntarily place it on Appendix III, which would prevent imports into Europe but permit the trade of animals already here and allow captive breeding. 

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