Reptile smuggling is predicted by trends in the legal exotic pet trade

The transnational smuggling of live animals is a considerable threat to biodiversity conservation, environmental biosecurity, animal welfare and human health and wellbeing. Understanding which species are smuggled is understudied due to the occluded nature of the illegal trade. We compared illegal smuggling of reptiles into Australia to the legal pet trade of reptiles in the US. Both countries share common cultural values, but have very different laws in relation to the animal trade, where the US imposes little to no regulations while Australia bans the import and trade of all non-native species. We found that almost every species smuggled to Australia is found legally in the US trade and on average took about 6 six years from first appearing in the US trade to be smuggled to Australia. The popularity of a species in the US, and internationally, was associated with the likelihood that a species would be smuggled into Australia. We suggest that the US and other Western countries influence Australian desire for illegal reptile species. We provide the first empirical risk watch-list for desirable reptile species being trafficked into Australia. Our findings give insight into the drivers of illegal wildlife trade and our approach provides a framework for anticipating future trends in wildlife smuggling.

By Oliver C. Stringham, Pablo García‐Díaz, Adam Toomes, Lewis Mitchell, Joshua Ross, Phillip Cassey in Research

July 15, 2021


Live animal smuggling presents a suite of conservation and biosecurity concerns, including invasive species and disease risks. However, understanding why certain species are smuggled over others, and predicting which species will be smuggled, remains unexplored. Here, we compared the live reptile species smuggled to Australia (75 species) to the legal trade of live reptile species in the United States (US). Almost all smuggled species were found in the legal US exotic pet market (98.6%), and we observed an average time lag of 4.2 years between a species first appearing in the US and its subsequent detection in Australia. Using a Bayesian regression, we found species popularity in the US and internationally were positively associated with the probability of species being smuggled to Australia. Our findings give insight to the drivers of illegal wildlife trade and our predictive modelling approach provides a framework for anticipating future trends in wildlife smuggling.

Posted on:
July 15, 2021
1 minute read, 150 words
conservation biosecurity wildlife trade illegal wildlife trade exotic pet trade reptiles
See Also:
Drivers of the Australian native pet trade: The role of species traits, socioeconomic attributes and regulatory systems
Response to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment's 'Proposed amendments to the Appendices of CITES for Australian Native Reptiles'
Challenges and perspectives on tackling illegal or unsustainable wildlife trade