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Exploring the international trade in African snakes not listed on CITES: highlighting the role of the internet and social media


Globally, there is an extensive trade in snakes for pets, especially in the European and North American markets. This trade includes many African snakes, but few of these are present on CITES appendices, suggesting little regulation of this international trade. In this study, we assess the status of this unregulated trade, by analyzing export lists and private seller advertisements, collected by correspondence, monitoring and recording social media and online forums. Furthermore, by engaging with African exporters, we map the distribution of trading hubs involved in the international trade of African snakes. We show that the African snake trade is extensive and involves rare and range-restricted species, including species on the IUCN red list of threatened species. Furthermore, the internet and social media are shown to play an increasing role in the trade of exotic reptiles. We found 2.269 wild caught live African snakes from 42 species, present in 15 African countries, to have been advertised for sale between 2013 and 2017. Traded species were predominately venomous and the 23 most traded species were not CITES listed. Three main hubs for the live snake trade occur on the African mainland: Tanzania, Togo, and Egypt. By using publicly available data we demonstrate an extensive trade in snake species where basic biological knowledge and conservation status is often missing and the sustainability of this trade is questionable. To tackle this potentially detrimental trade we recommend detailed investigations aiming to understand current threats to snakes, especially focusing on species not regulated by international conventions.

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The authors would like to thank Sandra Altherr from Pro Wildlife for her insight into the reptile trade, and Andrea Rehmsmeier for discussions on illegal trade in reptiles. A special thanks to Michalis Mihalitsis and two anonymous reviewers for invaluable comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Timm Juul Jensen.

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This article belongs to the Topical Collection: Biodiversity exploitation and use.

Communicated by Dirk Sven Schmeller.

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Jensen, T.J., Auliya, M., Burgess, N.D. et al. Exploring the international trade in African snakes not listed on CITES: highlighting the role of the internet and social media. Biodivers Conserv 28, 1–19 (2019).

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  • Unregulated harvest
  • Pet trade
  • Reptile
  • IUCN red list