Bangkok, Thailand, 16th June 2011—Thailand’s pet dealers are supplying large numbers of Madagascar’s most threatened reptiles and amphibians to local and international markets, despite unanswered questions over the legality of the imports, a new TRAFFIC report has found.
A 15-day survey of 32 vendors in Bangkok and eight Thai provinces by TRAFFIC investigators found 591 specimens of Malagasy reptiles and amphibians available for sale.
“Of particular concern was the large scale trade in endemic Malagasy chameleons,” states their report, Trade in Madagascar’s endemic reptiles and amphibians in Thailand (PDF, 1.1 MB).
The investigators found 233 chameleons representing 16 species for sale in markets, shops and internet traders’ homes, including the Antsingy Leaf Chameleon, a species whose international commercial trade is prohibited under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
While some chameleon species from Madagascar can be legally traded with permits, up to 78 percent—some 3,738 individuals—imported to Thailand between 2004 and 2005, had been declared as “captive-bred” in Kazakhstan or re-exported from Lebanon, notes the report.
However, analysis of official trade data showed that Kazakhstan had reported no imports of chameleons from Madagascar, nor had any country reported exports of Malagasy chameleons to Kazakhstan. Clearly imports of Malagasy chameleons are a pre-requisite to establishing captive breeding populations and many of the exports went to Lebanon, from where they were re-exported to Thailand.
“If large-scale captive-breeding operations of Malagasy chameleons are indeed taking place in Kazakhstan, where did they source their breeding stock and why are many of the exports going via Lebanon, a country that is not a party to CITES?” asks Chris Shepherd, Deputy Director of TRAFFIC South-East Asia.
Official trade data show Lebanon legally imported 32 Madagascan chameleons in 2005 from CITES Parties.
“Even at the highest theoretical hatching and survival rates, it is impossible for 32 chameleons to produce the thousands of offspring Thailand declared as imported from Lebanon in subsequent years, so how is the shortfall accounted for?” asks Shepherd.
Other species discovered during TRAFFIC’s investigations in Thailand included over a hundred Radiated Tortoises, dozens of Spider Tortoises, and three Ploughshare Tortoises—three of the world’s rarest tortoise species. All are classified by IUCN as Critically Endangered and international commercial trade in all is banned under CITES. The Radiated Tortoise population is believed to have shrunk to 30% or less of its former range in south-west Madagascar since 2009.
According to Richard Hughes, WWF’s Representative in Madagascar: “We know there is a significant ongoing illegal trade in protected species from Madagascar, mainly destined for Asia, which has been exacerbated by the current political situation in the country leading to weaker enforcement of existing laws and safeguarding of protected areas.”
TRAFFIC’s investigations found that trade in Malagasy reptiles and amphibians, once concentrated in Bangkok’s Chatuchak market, has now spread to provincial towns and is rife on the Internet, with evidence to suggest a network of dealers who supply both national and international clients.
The report urges Thai authorities to investigate and put a stop to imports from questionable sources through international co-operation. It also calls for stern action against traders who sell illegal reptiles and amphibians.
“Traders who sell illegally acquired reptiles and amphibians show total contempt for the law and undermine Thailand’s enforcement efforts,” said Shepherd.
For example, last week, more than 800 protected reptiles were interdicted by Thai authorities at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.
“Seizures of Malagasy chameleons by airport authorities are testament to the continuing illegal trade, but as the current report amply demonstrates, only through making regular visits to markets stalls and other vendors can we hope to unearth the true scale of the illicit trade and its potential impact on wild chameleon populations,” said Dr Richard Jenkins, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Chameleon Specialist Group.
In 2013, Thailand will host the next meeting of the conference of the Parties to CITES, which representatives of 175 governments are expected to attend to discuss wildlife trade issues.
Elizabeth John, Senior Communications Officer, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Tel: ++603 7880 3940, firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard Thomas, Communications Co-ordinator, TRAFFIC. Tel: +44 1223 279068, email: email@example.com
Executive summary in French (PDF, 60 KB)
1 Funding for this work was provided by the Darwin Initiative grant ‘Chameleon Trade and Conservation in Madagascar’ to DICE University of Kent and Madagasikara Voakajy.
2 Scientific names of species mentioned are: Antsingy Leaf Chameleon Brookesia perarmata; Ploughshare Tortoise Astrochelys yniphora; Radiated Tortoise Astrochelys radiata; Spider Tortoise Pyxis arachnoides.