Thousands of endangered and exotic reptile species are being sold as pets online putting some at risk of extinction, study warns

  • Researchers from China and Thailand analysed two decades of online pet sales
  • They found that 36 per cent of all known reptile species are being traded as pets
  • These include various endangered species like the Seychelles tiger chameleon
  • Almost four-fifths of these are not protected by any form of trade regulations
  • Unlike dogs, half of pet reptiles are not bred in captivity but taken from the wild  

Almost four-fifths of the 3,943 reptile species that are sold as pets online have been left vulnerable to exploitation by a lack of trade regulations, a study has found.

Experts from China and Thailand found that around 36 per cent of all known reptile species are sold as pets — including many endangered and range-restricted species.

These include the Seychelles tiger chameleon and the speckled cape tortoise — both of which are classified as endangered species.

The team had compared online records of pet trades over the last two decades with data from two international wildlife trade databases.

They found that 79 per cent of the reptile species being sold are not subject to regulations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. 

According to the researchers, unchecked reptile trade could help push certain species — that live only in small areas in the wild — over the edge into extinction. 

Almost four-fifths of the 3,943 reptile species that are sold as pets online have been left vulnerable by a lack of trade regulations, a study has found. Pictured, a tokay gecko

Experts from China and Thailand found that around 36 per cent of all known reptile species are sold as pets — including many endangered and range-restricted species. These include the endangered Seychelles tiger chameleon and speckled cape tortoise, pictured

‘Reptiles have become popular pets,’ said paper author and conservation scientist Alice Hughes of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing.

‘They fit in well with modern lifestyles, especially in urban areas. They require low maintenance, little space and are easy to keep even if you have a busy schedule and you need to travel,’ she added.

‘They have always been regarded as cool — and now they very easily accessible. We can expect this to continue to grow into the future.’

‘It is vital to ensure this is sustainable, as many pet trade individuals were collected from the wild — including more than 70 per cent of lizards.’

‘We noted a steady increase in the number of species in trade, so we can expect their popularity to continue to increase.’

In their study, Dr Hughes and colleagues trawled the web to gather information on the online trade of reptiles from the years 2000–2019.

This was then compared with data from two wildlife trade databases, those of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement Management Information System. 

‘Based on two international trade databases and information scraped from 24,000 web pages in five languages, we found that over 36 per cent of reptile species are in trade — totalling almost 4,000 species,’ said Dr Hughes.

Furthermore, 79 per cent of these species are not presently subject to regulations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

The team also found that 90 per cent of the reptile species traded — the equivalent of half of the total number of individuals — had been removed from the wild, rather than being bred in captivity as in common in the pet cat and dog trade.

The team found that 79 per cent of the reptile species being sold are not subject to regulations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Pictured, a Seychelles tiger chameleon, one of the endangered species sold on the online pet market

Among the species being traded are those of the genus cyrtodactylus and the blue-headed Indo-Chinese forest lizard, Callotes mystaceus, pictured, the researchers said

‘If we fail to mitigate the impacts of unregulated trade, small-ranged and endemic species may be the next victims of the ongoing biodiversity crisis,’ said Dr Hughes. 

The researchers found that Vietnam was a major source of some of the more threatened species being traded — while the largest consumer markets were found in Europe and North America. 

Among the species being traded are those of the genus cyrtodactylus and the blue-headed Indo-Chinese forest lizard, Callotes mystaceus.

‘Cyrtodactylus are majorly under threat from trade, as most species in the group have probably not been described yet and many are confined to a single limestone hill,’ explained Dr Hughes.

‘This species currently has no International Union for Conservation of Nature status, but many are for sale online within a year of their scientific description.’

‘There is the orange spotted tokay gecko — ‘Gekko gecko’ — from Indonesia. Many of those individuals come from the wild as they are sold at under $1 locally.’

Dr Hughes and colleagues are calling for a shift in the burden of proof — such that prospective trade must be proven to be sustainable before it is allowed to proceed.

According to the latest annual study by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, 0.55 million lizards, snakes, tortoises and turtles were kept as pets in the UK in 2020 — compared with an estimated 9 million dogs and 7.5 million cats. A 2017 study, however, warned that three-quarters of exotic reptiles sold as pets end up dying within a year — with people not knowing how to care for them properly

According to the latest annual study by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, 0.55 million lizards, snakes, tortoises and turtles were kept as pets in the UK in 2020 — compared with an estimated 9 million dogs and 7.5 million cats.

A 2017 study, however, warned that three-quarters of exotic reptiles sold as pets end up dying within a year — with people not knowing how to care for them properly. 

‘Although their numbers are small compared to more common pets, we have real concerns about the welfare of reptiles and other exotic animals kept as pets in this country,’ an RSPCA spokesperson told MailOnline.

‘Reptiles and other exotic pets are completely reliant on their owners to meet their welfare needs including requiring the correct levels of heat, light and humidity, plus an appropriate diet.’

‘Some species can grow very large, live for a long time or require a licence or paperwork to be legally kept or sold. Many of the animals we’re called to help are found stray outside, where they can very quickly suffer in the cold.’

‘It is essential that people research what is required in the care of their pet, including food, equipment, environment and vet care, before taking one on. We would also urge them to ask for help if they’re struggling to meet their needs.’

‘We believe that people may buy them with little idea of how difficult they can be to keep and the animals are sometimes neglected when the novelty wears off and the commitment hits home.’ 

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Communications. 

How deadly can pet pythons be? Popular snakes that have turned on their owners in killings around the world

Burmese pythons can grow up to 23ft

Pythons are found in sub-Saharan African countries and in parts of Asia.

They are non-venomous snakes and kill by constriction, latching on with their teeth and coiling around their prey.

Burmese pythons can grow up to 23ft with other species, like the ball python growing to around 6ft.

Due to their docile natures, pythons are one of the most popular snake breeds to be kept as pets. However, attacks on their handlers are not uncommon.

A python had never been known to have killed a person in Britain until the death of Dan Brandon was confirmed, but there have been previous fatalities across the world.

A man was killed by a python in Indonesia earlier in the year, while two boys died in Canada after one escaped from a pet shop in 2013.

Noah Barthe, four, and his brother Connor, six, were at a sleepover at Jean-Claude Savoie’s flat above the shop, called Reptile Ocean, in August 2013.

The African rock python got out through a ventilation duct in Campbellton, New Brunswick, and dropped into the living room where the two boys were sleeping.

It strangled and bit them to death and sparked a court trial, where the owner was cleared of responsibility.    

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