Monday, September 28, 2009

Wildlife smuggling


In The Trouble With Lions I wrote:
There seems to be some debate about which illegal trade generates the most income, but the top four are drugs, arms, people (mainly women as sex workers) and animals. All are worth billions of dollars a year and the animal trade involves the death of a vast proportion of its victims even while in transit.

It now seems as if wildlife smuggling has leapt into second place behind drugs in South Africa and overtaken arms.

The latest report of a bizarre case comes from the Wildlife Disease News Digest listserv of Sept 21st to which I subscribe. They provided a link to a story from Britain’s Telegraph online news outlet. The headline reads

South African caught at airport with crocodiles in luggage

It was not only crocodiles that he had tried to smuggle in his luggage, but a real mix that included snakes, a turtle, spiders, scorpions and frogs. In all some seventy animals were involved.

The man had flown in from Thailand and many, if not all (the article in not clear about this) of the animals were non-native and came from the Far East. There were at least three endangered species.

There are several issues to think about. First, and obvious, is the drain on species in the countries from which the animals came. Then comes the other big question. What happens when the smuggled animals arrive at destination; will they bring foreign diseases; what impact will they have on native wildlife?

The most recent and well-publicised example of a bad news answer to this question comes from Florida in the USA. Two species of non-native python have been found in the state. They are the Burmese Python and the African Rock Python. No doubt so-called “pet” owners released them when they got too big to handle. What is alarming about the rock python story came in a Sept 14th report by Christine Dell'Amore of National Geographic News who wrote:
“Six African rock pythons have been found in Florida since 2002. More troubling, a pregnant female and two hatchlings have been found, which means the aggressive reptiles have set up house.”

The smuggling continues and will no doubt do so as long as bad people want to make money. Maybe scanners like the one I wrote about in the blog on bushmeat need to be used in all airports.

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