The snake trade in Indonesia is not sustainable enough: but it could be

The wildlife trade is a multi-million dollar industry. While some animals are traded legally, in compliance with legislation aimed at protecting people, wildlife trafficking continues to thrive in many places, threatening valuable species with extinction.

Reptiles are exported in large numbers and snakes are no exception. They are mainly traded for their hides, used in luxury leather products or as pets. In the case of the blood python, which can reach up to 250cm in length, there are clear indications of misreported, underreported or illegal trade involving tens of thousands of individuals worldwide.

According to Vincent Nijman, professor of anthropology at Oxford Brookes University in the UK, the harvesting and trade of certain snake species, especially those that are common and have a high reproductive rate, can be sustainable. But how to be sure that it really is?

“Sustainability is best assessed by studying wild populations, but that takes time and effort,” says Nijman. “An alternative method is to use data from slaughterhouses and compare the evolution of certain parameters (number of snakes, size, males vs. females) over time.”

This method has been used by several research groups to assess the sustainability of the harvesting and trade of blood pythons in Indonesia. The results of these assessments vary widely, with some researchers saying the trade is sustainable, others that it is not and that populations are declining.

“A major problem with these assessments is that while they can detect a change in, for example, the number of blood pythons arriving at slaughterhouses, it is not clear whether this is due to changes in the wild population, changes in harvesting areas, harvesting methods, or changes in regulations that allow harvesting,” explains Nijman.

Using publicly available information and researching evidence of illegal trade, he set out to determine if there is enough data to assess whether blood pythons are indeed sustainably harvested in Indonesia.

“There is no conclusive data to support that the harvesting of blood pythons in North Sumatra is sustainable, but there is sufficient evidence to suggest that a substantial portion of this trade is illegal,” it said. he in his study, which was published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation.

He goes on to explain that there is no direct relationship between the sustainability of harvest and trade and its legality: “A species can be traded legally to extinction, or it can be traded illegally in sufficient numbers small so that it is durable.”

A clear trend over the past decade has been a shift in the way blood pythons are harvested, compared to earlier periods, “from opportunistic capture to, at least in part, targeted collection”.

Blood pythons are not on Indonesia’s list of protected species, but their harvest and trade, both domestically and internationally, is regulated by a quota system. The harvest for domestic trade is generally 10% of what is allowed to be exported.

Nijman’s research has identified substantial evidence of an underreported and illegal international trade in blood pythons. “Part of any assessment of the sustainability of blood python harvesting and trade must address this urgently,” he concludes.

Primary source:

Nijman V (2022) Harvest quotas, free markets and sustainable trade in pythons. Nature Conservancy 48: 99-121.

/Public release. This material from the original organization/authors may be ad hoc in nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author or authors. See in full here.

Comments are closed.