Wildlife trade is a multi-million dollar industry. Although some animals are traded legally, under legislation to protect the population, wildlife trade continues to thrive in many places, threatening the extinction of valuable species.
Reptiles are exported in large numbers, and snakes are no exception. They are mainly sold for leather, used in luxury leather goods or as pets. In the case of the bloody python, which can reach up to 250 cm in length, there are clear signs of misrepresented, underestimated or illegal trade involving tens of thousands of people around the world.
According to Vincent Neumann, a professor of anthropology at Oxford Brooks University in the UK, harvesting and trading certain species of snakes, especially common and have high reproductive capacity, can be sustainable. But how do we make sure this is true?
“Sustainability is best assessed by surveying wild populations, but it takes time and effort,” Nijman explains. “An alternative method is to use slaughterhouse data and compare how certain parameters change over time (number of snakes, size, males and females).
This method has been used by several research groups to assess crop sustainability and blood python trade in Indonesia. The results of these estimates vary widely: some researchers argue that trade is sustainable, while others argue that it is not and that the population is declining.
“The main problem with these estimates is that, although they may detect changes in, for example, the number of bloody pythons arriving at the slaughterhouse, it is unclear whether this is due to changes in wildlife, changes in harvesting areas, harvesting methods or changes in the rules that allow harvesting, ”Nijman said.
Using publicly available information and looking for evidence of illicit trade, he decided to establish whether there was enough data to assess whether blood pythons were indeed being sustainably exploited in Indonesia.
“There is no convincing evidence that the production of blood pythons in North Sumatra is sustainable, but there is ample evidence that much of this trade is illegal,” he said in a study published in the magazine. open access journal Nature protection.
He goes on to explain that there is no one-to-one relationship between crop sustainability and trade and its legality: “Species can be legally traded until extinction, or they can be traded illegally in small enough quantities to be sustainable.”
A clear trend of the last decade has been the change in the method of extracting blood pythons compared to previous periods “from opportunistic capture to, at least in part, targeted collection.”
Blood pythons are not included in Indonesia’s list of protected species, but their prey and trade, both domestically and internationally, are regulated by a quota system. The harvest for domestic trade is usually 10% of what is allowed to be exported.
Nijman’s study found substantial evidence of underestimation and illegal trade in blood pythons. “Part of any assessment of crop sustainability and blood python trade must address this issue as a matter of urgency,” he concludes.
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