Europe to crack down on wildlife smugglers to protect rare lizard species | Illegal wildlife trade

Europe has moved to close a loophole allowing wildlife smugglers to trade in several endangered species of lizards, after revelations from the Guardian about the scale of the problem.

A EU proposal strictly regulate the trade in tree alligators (Abronia), supported by Mexico, will be discussed at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) conference, which opens this fall in Johannesburg.

Another EU motion supported by Vietnam would ban the purchase and sale of psychedelic geckos (VSpsychedelic nemaspis) while a Malaysian submission would bring monitor lizards without ears (Lanthanotus borneensis) under CITES protection.

Lizards are protected species in their country of origin but once they have been smuggled across national borders, their sale may not be illegal as CITES has not yet listed them.

Sandra Altherr, co-founder of the conservation group Pro Wildlife, whose reports put the issue on the political map, is confident that the new proposals will be adopted.

“This marks an important step towards better protecting these species from exploitation for the pet trade,” she said. “While we appreciate the EU proposals, it is clear that the main problem still exists for other species that are only protected in their range states. The EU must pass legislation covering all nationally protected species – an equivalent of the US Lacey Act.

The Lacey Act, in effect since 1900, allows US authorities to prosecute wildlife smugglers for actions taken in other countries.

European traffickers are thought to have had a devastating effect on reptile species designated for Cites protection, with the German Terraristika trade fair in Hamm named as a key forum for the illegal trade.

At last September’s show, the Guardian posed as a potential buyer and was offered endangered lizards – including earless monitor lizards and tree-dwelling alligator lizards – at prices of up to €5,000 (£4,000) a pair.

“The Guardian’s coverage has been instrumental in raising awareness among conservation authorities of the damage the international reptile trade is causing to these species,” Altherr said.

EU proposal on psychedelic geckos notes that nine animals have been advertised online for sale at the Terraristika fair. “The species [has] low ability to recover from overexploitation due to small estimated population size,” the motion reads.

the movement on arboreal alligator lizards (pdf) indicates that reptiles are regularly sold at the German National Reptile Fair in a trade that appears to be growing.

“Given the low reproductive rates of the species, their restricted distribution, habitat loss and international demand for the pet trade, we can consider that the unregulated collection of the species from the wild could put their survival at risk,” the report said.

Other EU proposals at the Cites conference, trade protection could be offered to thresher sharks, Barbary macaques and a variety of other reptiles and fish.

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