Often lauded as a model for conserving wild populations, breeding centers in Indonesia are shown to be actually worsening depletion of wildlife.
Green tree python
Breeding farms in Indonesia are being used to launder illegally caught wildlife, finds a new study published in the journal Biological Conservation.
The research is based on surveys of traders who supply the market for green pythons (Morelia viridis), a non-venomous snake popular in the pet trade for its many color forms. The authors — Jessica Lyons and Daniel Natusch of the University of New South Wales — tracked pythons from their point of capture in Indonesian New Guinea and Maluku to breeding farms in Jakarta where the snakes are exported for the pet trade as “captive-bred”. They found that 80 percent of snakes exported annually from Indonesia are illegally wild-caught, revealing high levels of fraud in Indonesia’s reptile export market.
“Extrapolation of monthly collection estimates provided by traders revealed that at least 5337 green pythons are collected each year,” Lyons and Natusch write.
The results are significant because green pythons are currently Indonesia’s top export among snake species declared “captive-bred”. But the implications go beyond the credibility of Indonesia’s reptile export market.
For one, sourcing animals from the wild depletes location populations. According to the researchers, traders report declining abundance of adult snakes, indicating overharvesting.
Furthermore wild-caught snakes do poorly, especially when trafficked over large distances from their habitats in Eastern Indonesia to the urban jungle of Jakarta.
“The general health of green pythons being traded was poor,” note the authors. “We observed hundreds of snakes that were malnourished, showing symptoms of disease and/or infection, or were dead.”
Trafficking in wild-caught snakes isn’t good for reptiles, nor is it good for the pet trade. Indeed the authors note a preference among reptile enthusiasts for captive-bred over wild-caught animals. Indonesian traders are therefore misleading their customers on the origins of green pythons.
“There are a number of dealers who knowingly
import wild-caught green pythons and other species and sell them
as captive-bred, relying on the difficulty of differentiating between
the two in order to mislead unsuspecting buyers and enforcement
authorities in both Indonesia and the importing countries,” write Lyons and Natusch. “It is also
likely that other dealers are unaware they are receiving wildcaught
green pythons, relying on the word of the Indonesian exporter
that they are captive-bred.”
Yellow form of the green tree python (Morelia viridis). Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
To counter laundering of wildlife through breeding farms, the authors suggest a series of measures, including requiring breeders to offer proof in the form of egg shells for the snakes they sell; consumer education initiatives; better monitoring of farm owners; training programs for breeders; research into understanding the economics of reptile farming; and legalizing limited harvest of wild pythons through a quota system. They note more research is needed to understand the market for snakes.
“The suitability and in fact feasibility of breeding
farms for producing wildlife to alleviate harvest of wild animals
needs to be re-evaluated,” they write. “It appears that breeding green pythons
is currently not a cheaper alternative to laundering wild-caught animals and is therefore not fulfilling the conservation objectives
that led to the establishment of farms in the first place.”
Lyons, J.A., Natusch, D.J.D. Wildlife laundering through breeding farms: Illegal harvest, population declines and a means
of regulating the trade of green pythons (Morelia viridis) from Indonesia. Biol. Conserv. (2011), doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2011.10.002