The illegal online trade in Caribbean reptiles

Caribbean reptile. Image: Mark Yokoyama

Last year, conservation scientist Josh Noseworthy spent six weeks investigating illegal wildlife trade in the Caribbean, specifically in trade in reptiles. He documented his findings in an article for the Oxford Martin Programme on the Illegal Wildlife Trade:

The Caribbean …  is a hotspot for reptile diversity. Although small in area (< 0.15% of the earth’s land surface), these islands are home to over 6% of all known reptile species! Nearly every island has a unique community of endemic reptiles, and new species are regularly discovered, or in some cases, rediscovered. Living on a tropical island has its downsides though – the West Indies region has the highest rate of reptile extinctions globally. Island populations are often naturally small and restricted, making them especially vulnerable to anthropogenic disturbances, including habitat loss and invasive species. This is particularly the case for Caribbean island reptiles, which are facing a new threat; poaching to supply the international pet trade.

At the time of the study, the Lesser Antilles contained 106 known terrestrial reptile species, and 41 of these (39%) had evidence of being traded online. Twenty-nine species were listed as threatened, and approximately one-quarter of these were found for sale online. Furthermore, 26 of the 54 species yet to be evaluated for the Red List were also found for sale online, many of which are certainly of conservation concern. The majority of online sales occurred on websites from the US and EU, respectively, followed by Japan. Although the method used to assess each species was systematic, an exhaustive review was not possible, and the method did not account for non-English search engines. For these reasons, the results reflect what is likely only a glimpse of the total scale and diversity of Lesser Antillean reptiles traded online. The survey also clarified that a few individuals were facilitating the bulk of the online trade, and were sourcing reptiles illicitly. Although unknown to me at the time, this information would later prove useful in unravelling the complex network of illegal trade.

Find out more, including Josh’s recommendations for improving conservation and protection of Caribbean reptiles, in the full article.

[Image: Mark Yokoyama]

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