Friday, April 1, 2011

Thailand and the Trade in Reptiles & Amphibians

I have always had an eversion to crowds of people so a trip to the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok is always a challenge. Not only is it shoulder to shoulder with fellow shoppers, if it rains - a common occurence in Bangkok - the entire market floods and then you are shopping in several inches of water. The 35-acre market has more than 8,000 stalls and a typical weekend draws 200,000 people all looking for a bargain.

However, this market is of particular interest because it includes a wide selection of wildlife, given the crowds it is the only reason I would attend more than once. In fact I have visited the market several times and am amazed as to the number of squirrels with collars and leashes pinned to vendor's shirts. Of course there are dogs, cats, birds, and many fish. But their are also many amphibians and reptiles for sale. Some are the typical pet shop species, boa constrictors, corn snakes, and iguanas. But, others have plastic bottles filled with unusual snakes, lizards, and frogs - often located under the counter.  Here its possible to encounter a Cryptelytrops venustus or a Naja sputatrix. But perhaps most surprisingly some of the large, rare softshell turtles of the Mekong drainage, like Chitra and Peltochelys are forsale from aquariums.
Cryptelytrops venustus, not from the market.

This week Vincent Nijman and Chris R. Shepard report on the role of Thailand in the international trade in CITES listed herpetofauna. Using data in the WCMC-CITES trade database, they establish that a total of 75,594 individuals of 169 species of reptiles and amphibians (including 27 globally threatened species) were imported into Thailand between 1990 and 2007. They found the majority of individuals (59,895, 79%) were listed as captive-bred and a smaller number (15,699, 21%) as wild-caught. Small numbers of individuals of a few species were imported into Thailand in the 1990's, but in 2003 both volume and species diversity increased rapidly. Wild-caught individuals were mainly sourced from African countries, and captive-bred individuals from Asian countries (including from non-CITES Parties). They found  significant discrepancies between exports and imports. While, Thailand reports importing less than 10,000 individuals (51 species) originating from Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan reports no exports of these species. Similar discrepancies, involving smaller numbers were found with other countries.
The Mekong Narrow Headed 
Softshell Turtle, Chitra chitra. Rescued
from the market.
They consider the international wildlife trade as one of the leading threats to conserving biodiversity. And, while it is a probelm - let's think about the larger problem - rampant habitat destruction by logging, mining, and draining wetlands. Often these activities are done to replace natural landscapes with agriculture - a direct result of population growth.

Nijman V, Shepherd CR (2011) The Role of Thailand in the International Trade in CITES-Listed Live Reptiles and Amphibians. PLoS ONE 6(3): e17825. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0017825

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