International trade in wildlife that is not protected by multilateral agreements poses a growing threat to global biodiversity. This is stated in a report by scientists at the University of Adelaide in Australia, based on data on species not protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
“Global demand for exotic pets is on the rise,” researchers Freyja Watters and Phil Cassey, biologists at the University of Adelaide, note. “This trend is being catalysed by social media and the shift from physical pet stores to online marketplaces, among other things.”
Animals such as otters, lories, and galagos are often depicted on social media with cute traits, human-like feelings and behaviors. This helps create demand for species like pets, which fuels the legal and illegal trade in wildlife.”
Australian scientists argue that “the international trade in wildlife is currently one of the greatest threats to global biodiversity conservation and environmental protection”.
“Wild populations may be endangered, while new invasive species may be introduced elsewhere. The potential for disease transmission from wild animals to humans should even be taken into account. Finally, the well-being of traded animals is often threatened as well.”
The United States appears to be the largest importer in the global market for exotic pets. “However, it should be noted that the US market imports more than three times the unregulated species of animals included in CITES lists,” suggest Watters and Cassey.
The research, spanning ten years, showed that 378 species are subject to CITE protection when exotic pets are imported into the US market. In addition, 1,366 unorganized species were also found, with a total of 8.84 million imported animals.
“This group—which includes amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles—is about 11 times larger than the number of categories on the CITE lists,” Waters and Cassie explain. “In addition, many endangered species have also been found, but are still traded in large numbers.”
An example is the golden gecko or the Chinese water dragon. The list also includes species with a small and fragmented geographic range, such as some exotic tree frogs. “
In addition, it should be noted that concerns have also been raised about a number of species not currently on the CITES list. Scientists assert that “a number of these species – such as the two-toed sloth – are increasing in traded numbers over time, which may affect their survival.”
“But due consideration should also be given to importing invasive species – such as certain groups of parrots.”
The researchers warn that stricter controls on trade in these unregulated categories are urgently needed. In their opinion, this is the only way to ensure better protection.
“This research demonstrates why there is an urgent need to control trade in all species that live freely in the wild and not just focus on CITES-listed animals,” they say.
“Cities only cover less than 10 percent of all described terrestrial plants and vertebrates and less than 1 percent of all fish and invertebrates.”
“There is also no international regulatory framework to oversee trade in many species not on CITE’s lists. In addition, there are also no standard procedures for determining when species should be included on CITES lists.”
“This often only happens after significant declines in wild animal numbers or widespread and frequent confiscation of illegal shipments have been documented. It is clear that stricter regulation is needed to prevent the decline.”
The wildlife trade also flows mainly from lower-income countries to more affluent nations. However, countries of origin often lack the resources to effectively monitor these practices. So rich countries – which are driving the demand for exotic pets – must take the lead in tackling this trade.”