Forty-four years of global trade in CITES-listed snakes: Trends and implications for conservation and public health

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Trade in CITES-listed snakes is dominated by commercially purposed pythons.•

Live snakes are mainly exported by Ghana, Indonesia, Togo and Benin, and imported by China and the USA.•

Traded snakes are increasingly reported as being sourced from captivity rather than the wild.•

Potentially invasive snake species are heavily traded as pets.•

Traded venomous snakes are mainly wild-caught, potentially increasing snakebite risk.


Trade in venomous and non-venomous snakes can negatively impact wild snake populations and may drive snakebite risk for people. However, we often lack sufficient trade data to identify where the potential risks for snake population decline and snakebite are highest. Currently, the legal, international trade of 164 snake species is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). We analyzed CITES-listed snake trade from 1975 to 2018 using the recently released shipment-level CITES Trade Database to identify spatiotemporal trends of snake trade and generate insights regarding snake conservation and potential public health risks from snakebite. Commercially purposed pythons dominated the global snake trade, comprising 38.8% of all traded snakes. Live snakes were mainly exported by Ghana, Indonesia, Togo, and Benin, and imported by China and the USA. Venomous snake trade comprised 10.8% of all traded snakes, and over 75% of wild-sourced venomous snakes came from Indonesia. Although traded snakes in recent years are increasingly comprised of captive-bred animals, the majority of snakes are still wild-sourced (> 60% between 2015 and 2017), including IUCN-listed species, with potentially detrimental impacts on conservation status. Further, the CITES Trade Database reveals geographic regions where venomous snakes are sourced from the wild, posing potential risks to snake catchers, traders, and pet owners. The database also documents the movement of non-native snake species through trade, with implications for conservation of native species. This study represents the first global analysis focused specifically on CITES-listed snake trade using the CITES Trade Database.

12-year prison term not enough for wildlife traffickers

By: Jhesset O. Enano – Reporter / @JhessetEnanoINQ Philippine Daily Inquirer / 05:26 AM March 06, 2020

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is backing a House bill imposing stiffer penalties on wildlife crime.

In a position paper submitted to the House committee on natural resources this week and obtained by the Inquirer, the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) said wildlife trafficking had remained unabated and resulted in greater loss of the country’s
resources—20 years after the enactment in 2001 of Republic Act No. 9147, or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act.

It called for stiffer fines and penalties against such illegal acts as killing, trading, hunting or transporting wildlife, as well as the inclusion of specific circumstances that would mean the maximum penalty against offenders.

“Similar to drugs and illegal trafficking of persons, wildlife trafficking is now at the level of transnational crime,” Assistant Environment Secretary and BMB chief Ricardo Calderon said in an interview.

“We’ve seen that wildlife crime is very rampant and moves across boundaries … Hopefully the increase in pe­nalty will be a big deterrent, because now the penalties are very low, with some spanning for just six months to a year,” Calderon said.
12 years not enough

Among the provisions the DENR wants to include in House Bill No. 265, authored by Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Sato, are imprisonment of up to 20 years (reclusion temporal) for offenders who kill or destroy species listed as critically endangered and fines ranging from P200,000 to P2 million.

Under the present law, people committing the same crime face only up to
12 years in jail and fines ranging from P100,000 to P1 million.

Illegal traders of critically endangered animals can be jailed for four years and fined P50,000 to P600,000, under the proposed amendments.

This is in contrast to the current penalties, with jail time of only up to two years and fines ranging from P5,000 to P300,000.

Wildlife laundering—in which traders disguise the origin and ownership of illegally acquired wildlife by making it appear as though they came from legitimate sources—will also be punishable under the amended law.

Despite record seizures of smuggled wildlife in recent years valued at billions of pesos, prosecuting wildlife criminals remains a huge challenge for the government.

Traders go scot-free with lax penalties, overburdened courts and lack of knowledge among legal professionals, while repeat offenders easily skirt through the system.
Only 70 cases

An earlier Inquirer report showed that more than 26,700 wildlife were confiscated in at least 123 enforcement operations from 2013 to 2018.
But in that period, only 70 cases against wildlife criminals had been filed, with only 18 convictions.

Of the 228 identified offenders, only 30 had been penalized—and not all of them spent time in jail.

“Many continue to take risks because there is a market,” Calderon said.
“With the value of animals worth millions and with very low penalties, it’s really worth risking.”

Another reason for the government’s shortcomings in dealing with wildlife crime is the notion that these are small-time offenses, said Environment Undersecretary Ernesto Adobo Jr.

“There is a common notion that these crimes do not have victims, so they consider it second-class crimes or offenses,” Adobo said. “In fact, the victims [in] these crimes are the wild animals themselves.”

In its paper, the DENR-BMB sought to include specific circumstances that would mean the maximum penalty against trafficking wildlife.

For instance, the number of specimens involved in violations should be considered since many confiscations involved several numbers of animals of different species and with different conditions during capture.
Maximum penalty

Under the bill, repeat offenders will be prosecuted with the maximum penalty—the same with those who commit crimes through inducing indigenous peoples.

The Asean Centre for Biodiversity had earlier reported that the Philippines loses P50 billion every year due to the illegal trade. The archipelago serves as a source, transit point and destination for trafficked animals.

Among the most trafficked animals were those seen only in the Philippines, such as the Philippine pangolin and Philippine pond turtle.
Both are classified as critically endangered.

Read more:
Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook

Russian Watchdog Warns Six Walrus Calves From ‘Whale Jail’ May Be Smuggled To China

Zeeshan Aziz (@imziishan) 13 minutes ago Thu 05th December 2019 | 05:29 PM Russian Watchdog Warns Six Walrus Calves From ‘Whale Jail’ May Be Smuggled to China A Russian environmental watchdog has questioned the legitimacy of an appeal by the Akvatoriya company in Vladivostok to sell to China six baby walruses that were captured in 2018 in Chukotka by two companies implicated in the recent “whale jail” scandal, the watchdog’s press service told Sputnik on Thursday

MOSCOW/VLADIVOSTOK (UrduPoint News / Sputnik – 05th December, 2019) A Russian environmental watchdog has questioned the legitimacy of an appeal by the Akvatoriya company in Vladivostok to sell to China six baby walruses that were captured in 2018 in Chukotka by two companies implicated in the recent “whale jail” scandal, the watchdog’s press service told Sputnik on Thursday.

According to the Federal Agency for Supervision of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor), on November 25, 2019, Akvatoriya lodged a request to issue a permit under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora to export six baby walruses from Russia to China. The documents provided by the company, however, raised questions on the origin of the animals.

“Thus, taking into account that the date of birth indicated in the animals’ passports is 2018, the age of the animals at the time of capture could not exceed 10 months. There is no information about the address and conditions of keeping the walruses in the exporter’s request. As part of the review procedure, we sent a request to the Russian Federal Fisheries Agency on the legitimacy of catching the given walruses,” the press service stated.

According to the Russian legislation, capturing walruses that young is illegal. On Tuesday, the Russian Environment Ministry ordered head of Rosprirodnadzor Svetlana Radionova to check Srednyaya Bay, where the baby walruses were held in captivity. In addition, in March, one of the workers of the “whale jail” confirmed that there were walruses among the animals stranded in captivity.

The scandal involving the “whale jail” erupted last year when environmentalists found that a large group of marine mammals was held in captivity in Srednyaya Bay of the Primorsky Region. The stranded animals were being prepared to be smuggled to China. As a result of a probe into the illegal fishing of aquatic animals and animal abuse, the companies responsible for the violation were fined a total of 150 million rubles
($2.4 million). The trapped orcas and belugas were steadily released in groups from June to November.

Planet SOS: Guatemala’s illegal animal trade

Guatemala’s northern Peten region anchors the largest tropical forest north of the Amazon but as more people settle in the area, poaching and other threats to its biodiversity are rising fast.


Guatemala’s northern Peten region is home to the largest tropical forest north of the Amazon.

But as more people settle in the area, poaching and other threats to its biodiversity are rising.

A group of scientists is working to save a number of species.

Al Jazeera’s David Mercer reports from Guatemala.

Man arrested in Sakai City on charges of smuggling

Google translate of first paragraph:

The fear of extinction: “Kazumeka otter”;

Nov 27, 2019 17:03:00

A 54-year-old man who lives in Sakai, Osaka, was arrested for trying to
smuggle two Kotsumeka otters that are popular as pets and traded at high
prices in Thailand. The police are investigating as they tried to smuggle
the endangered Kotsumeka otter for resale.

Arrested by Hiroyuki Matsui (54), a self-employed person living in Sakai,
According to police and customs, Matsui suspected that in September, he
tried to bring two Kotsumeka otters, which are inter

Live finches being smuggled into US in hair rollers discovered

Live finches being smuggled into US in hair rollers discovered

In this photo provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, some of the 70 live finches hidden inside hair rollers found Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport are displayed. Authorities say a passenger arriving from Guyana had the songbirds in a duffel bag. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection via AP)

NEW YORK — Customs officials at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport say they found 70 live finches hidden inside hair rollers.

Authorities say a passenger arriving from Guyana on Saturday had the songbirds in a duffel bag.

The New York Times reports officials believe the birds were brought to the U.S. to participate in singing contests. Customs officials say people bet on how many times the finches chirp, and a winning male finch can sell for up to $10,000.

The birds were turned over to veterinarians to the U.S. Agriculture Department, and the passenger was sent back to Guyana.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection says bird smuggling could threaten agriculture through the possible spread of diseases such as bird flu.

Customs officers have seized about 184 finches this year.

Holding social media companies accountable for facilitating illegal wildlife trade

Florida authorities bust trafficking ring smuggling thousands of native turtles

By Alaa Elassar, CNN

Updated 4:30 PM ET, Sat October 19, 2019

Thousands of wild turtles were being captured and sold illegally in Florida.

(CNN)Two men have been charged for poaching thousands of Florida turtles and
selling them illegally, according to the
<> Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission.

The “charges represent the state’s largest seizure of turtles in recent
history,” the FWC said in a statement on Friday.

More than 4,000 turtles comprising a range of native species were illegally
captured and sold over six months, the commission said. The turtles were
worth $200,000 on the black market.

“The illegal trade of turtles is having a global impact on many turtle
species and our ecosystems,” said Eric Sutton, the FWC’s executive director.

Two suspects have been charged for smuggling thousands of turtles and
selling them illegally.

After receiving a tip in February 2018, the FWC launched an undercover
investigation where they discovered a ring of traffickers who were selling
wild turtles to reptile dealers and distributors.

The suspects had taken so many turtles from targeted habitats that
populations were depleted, the commission said.

“Wild turtle populations cannot sustain the level of harvest that took place
here,” said Brooke Talley, the FWC’s reptile and amphibian conservation
coordinator. “This will likely have consequences for the entire ecosystem
and is a detriment for our citizens and future generations.”

Investigators served a search warrant on August 12, during which they found
hundreds of turtles and the skull and shell of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle,
the <>
most endangered species of sea turtles.

The skull and shell of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, the most endangered
species of sea turtles, was found in possession of the suspects.

The suspects sold the turtles for cash and marijuana products, the
commission said. Both suspects face a variety of poaching-related charges.

While the turtles were sold in Florida, they were sold to buyers who shipped
them overseas, specifically in Asia where they were bought as pets.
Depending upon the species, the commission said the poached turtles sold
wholesale for up to $300 each and retailed for as much as $10,000 each in

“Over 600 turtles were returned to the wild, two dozen were quarantined and
released at a later date, and a handful were retained by a captive wildlife
licensee since they were not native to the area,” the commission said.

“We commend our law enforcement’s work to address the crisis of illegal
wildlife trafficking,” said Sutton.

CNN’s Melissa Alonso contributed to this report.

Twenty countries to fight wildlife trafficking as organised crime

Latin American and European governments signed the Lima Declaration to combat a crime worth more than US$10 billion annually

Vanessa Romo October 10, 2019

wildlife trafficking

The first high level regional Latin American meeting on wildlife trafficking, the fourth most profitable illegal trade, took place in Lima, Peru, last week (image: Serfor)

The first high level conference on the illegal wildlife trade in the Americas, attended by representatives from 30 countries, issued an urgent call to treat trafficking as a serious crime.

The meeting, organised by the Peruvian government and major international organisations including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) culminated in 20 Latin American nations signing the Lima Declaration, an agreement consisting of 21 measures to fight an illegal activity worth more than
US$10 billion annually.

“This type of trafficking is the fourth most common in the world after drugs, weapons and people,” said Jorge Montenegro, Peru’s agriculture minister.

Environment minister Fabiola Muñoz added: “[It is] a problem that is embedded in the networks of corruption.”

Parties to the conference identified common problems from the need to link the illegal wildlife trade to organised crime, to non-existent sanctions against criminals and mechanisms enabling countries to coordinate responses. Nor is it yet fully understood how the networks that profit from this illegal business operate.

Each signatory will have to share results of their efforts at the next group meeting in Colombia in 2021.
A high-flying crime

Latin America is home to 40% of the world’s biodiversity and about 25% of endangered species, according to the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Wildlife trafficking is a great threat to this. In Peru alone, 318 species are considered potential victims and 86 feature on the IUCN Red List.

Jessica Gálvez-Durand, from Peru’s National Forest and Wildlife Service (Serfor), said an average of 4,000 to 5,000 specimens are seized each year.

“Between 2000 and 2018, more than 79,000 species were detected, mostly amphibians and birds,” she said, adding that so far this year there have been 430 seizures.

However well such operations advance, illegal mechanisms to bypass government inspectors are also improving.

Yovana Murillo, health and wildlife trafficking coordinator at environmental NGO Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), said two years ago in Peru authorities found 29 Galapagos turtles on a bus and a number of Spain-bound Andean cock-of-the-rocks at the airport.

Kurth Duchez, a WCS wildlife traffic officer, added that reports have emerged from Guatemala, Honduras and Belize of embryonated macaw eggs being sent to Asia, a form easier to transport than when they’re hatched.

We can’t fight 21st century crimes with 20th century tools.

Some countries need to impose more severe sanctions to combat this crime. Panama, for example, currently only has a maximum penalty of five years, while in Uruguay wildlife trafficking is considered a basic infraction.

“Belize took tough actions after cases of jaguar hunting appeared. A reward was offered to arrest offenders, penalties were raised and their legislation strengthened,” Duchez said.

In Guatemala, which is developing a national strategy, the need to link trafficking with other crimes like smuggling, firearms offences and customs fraud would enable more severe penalties to be applied.

Peru was one of the first countries to develop this strategy and now associates trafficking with organised crime offences.

“We work closely with the Office of the Specialised Prosecutor in Environmental Matters (FEMA) and we are close to allowing that classification,” said Alberto Gonzales-Zuñiga, director of Serfor.

shark fin wildlife trafficking
Since November 2018, 5800 kilos of shark fins destined for China have been seized (image: Oceana)

It is necessary to coordinate action against trafficking with border countries, and also with the illegal transit of natural resources.

“With the reactivation of the South American Wildlife Enforcement Network (SudWEN) there will be better communication between authorities.
When we rescued the 29 Galapagos turtles, the transfer took more than nine months, a process that should be faster,” said Flor María de Vega, from Peru’s wildlife crime prosecution team.

Adrian Reuter, WCS species trafficking coordinator for Latin America,
said: “It’s time for countries to review their regulations and make the necessary reforms, both in coordination and in processes like wiretapping that they can use to investigate these criminal networks.”

Gustavo Romero, a Peruvian official of the National Superintendence of Customs and Tax Administration (Sunat) agreed. The Global Container Program, created by the UN and the World Customs Organisation and which is used to detect drug shipments, is now being used to detect illegal timber trafficking. This could easily be applied to the fight against the illegal wildlife trade.

“We have a strong infrastructure for better results,” Romero said, adding that for a year they’ve used an early warning system to identify certain persons suspected of trafficking as they travel.

the estimated value of a shipment of sea horses seized last week (US$)

Peruvian authorities first saw the fruits of these efforts a week ago when they seized more than five tonnes of seahorses being transferred from an artisanal boat to an industrial vessel. The cargo was valued at
US$6 million.

“It can have an economic return similar to drug trafficking,” Romero said. When traffickers become aware of port controls they simply adapt their methods since it is so lucrative, he added.

Nor is internet wildlife trafficking is not effectively controlled.

“Every month we receive 20 to 30 complaints of possible animal trafficking offenses that appear online,” said Serfor’s Gálvez-Durand.
Targeted species

The conference identified the jaguar as an emblematic species of the Americas. Its fangs, skin, bones and testicles are sold in Asia, and especially China, Li Lishu, WCS’ China specialist noted.

China has played an increasingly important role in fighting the trade in recent years and this is reflected in seizures and investigations, both in markets and the countries of origin. In the last 18 months, Chinese law enforcement has brought 580 cases for trafficking endangered species, much of which is wildlife.

However, Li said China has not yet fully recognised Latin America as a high-risk area for these crimes.

“They have begun to learn more about the danger of the jaguar thanks to the international agreement that exists to conserve it, but China’s focus continues to be on Asia and Africa for parts of elephants, tigers and rhinos,” she said.

jaguar teeth wildlife trafficking
Jaguar fangs are highly valued in China for their supposed healing and aphrodisiac properties (photo: Ecobol)

Li said that the Chinese government is open to countries’ concerns about these crimes. “The problem is the lack of knowledge on both sides about who should coordinate actions. While in Peru, wildlife functions are administered under the ministry of agriculture, in China they are under the natural resources administrator,” she said.

For a year, Li has been collecting data on endangered species that are marketed in China. She has found most adverts for green iguanas, which are sold as pets and also taken to hatcheries.

In Peru, birds and reptiles are the most trafficked, although primates, especially the yellow-tailed monkey, are the most vulnerable.
Gálvez-Durand said that Bolivia and Ecuador are also nearby entry points, and that from Lima trafficked species leave for Europe, Asia and the US.

In Colombia, ornamental river fish feature highly, as well as snakes and reptiles such as the golden tegu, and birds such as macaws and parrots, according to Sonia Uribe, from Colombia’s Directorate of National Taxes and Customs (DIAN).

Duchez said that birds and reptiles such as green and black iguana, tree turtles and vipers are the most trafficked from Central American countries.

“In Honduras and Belize there is also a lot of illegal trade in the queen snail. Generally, this traffic goes to US and European markets because Asia demands large volumes,” he said.
Work to do

Communication is a problem within countries of the region and across them. The Lima Declaration aims to strengthen cooperation at border controls.

Antonio Roma, justice system coordinator of Peru’s Assistance Program against Transnational Organized Crime (Paccto), said: “Sometimes the prosecutor in [Peruvian port] Callao doesn’t know how to contact one in [northern Chilean port city] Arica. All judicial powers, the police and penitentiary institutions must be connected.”

Ivonne Higuero, general secretary of CITES, said many of those responsible for monitoring and prosecuting do not have sufficient specialised knowledge to identify species and the seriousness of their commercialisation.

Roma said: “We can’t fight 21st century crimes with 20th century tools.”

Alberto Gonzáles-Zuñiga, director of Serfor, said they will soon launch a pilot program with the regional government of Tumbes, on the northern tip of Peru, to implement cross-border actions with Ecuador.

“A case like that of the Galapagos turtles should not cross our borders again,” he said. That time, the seizure was carried out on a bus in Piura, six hours from the border.

Scientific research in most Latin American countries on the status of their species is also under-resourced.

“Developing countries still think that environmental problems can be left for later and we already know that overexploitation is the second largest threat to the species,” Higuero said.