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Assessing the trade of reptile species in the South African pet trade.

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Despite the negative impacts that the pet trade has on the native and non-native biodiversity, economy and human health, the research suggests that the demand for pets and the extent of trade in live animals as pets has increased dramatically over the years. As a result, many species, including reptiles, have been translocated and introduced into new or non-native environments. Some of these have established feral populations, become invasive and are causing significant environmental and socio-economic impacts on non-native environments. Reptiles are among the most popular groups of animals in the pet trade industry globally. Trade in pet reptiles in South Africa is large and one of the major pathways through which non-native species, including invasive species, are introduced into the country. Despite this, little is known about the dynamics of the wildlife trade in pet reptiles globally. To understand the dynamics of the global trade in pet reptiles, we carried out a comprehensive literature search to gather relevant information from reptile pet trade-based publications. We further compiled a list of traded pet reptiles from all South African physical pet stores and online advertising websites to determine which species are traded, pose an invasion risk and have potential environmental and socio-economic impacts. We found a total of 39 publications based on the reptile pet trade from 1994 – 2021 worldwide. Our analyses revealed that the research effort was not uniform globally, with the majority (63.6%) of all relevant studies originating from three continents (Asia, Europe, and North America). Moreover, the United States of America (North America) and Indonesia (Asia) produced the greatest research outputs (12.1% each) compared with other countries across the world. We found at least 1140 reptile species belonging to 60 families involved in the global pet trade, with invasive red-eared slider Trachemys scripta elegans being the most frequently studied species (number of studies = 23/39). Of the recorded species, at least 79 are invasive, 46 endangered, 29 critically endangered, while only 546 are CITES-listed. In terms of reptile species sold in South Africa, we recorded a total of 2771 individuals representing 88 unique reptiles, 69 from physical pet stores and 18 from online advertising websites. KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and Western Cape Provinces had the highest number of pet stores and online advertising websites; therefore, they subsequently recorded the highest number of pet reptiles compared with other provinces. Physical pet stores were found to have the highest number of species compared to online trade. Of the recorded species, 76 are nonnative, and 15 of these are invasive to South Africa. Moreover, only 32 pet reptiles are listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). For current distributions, red-eared slider Trachemys scripta elegans, P. guttatus, and Western diamondback rattlesnake Crotalus atrox had the largest predicted climatic suitability. The future predictions for the latter two species were predicted to increase, while red-eared slider suitability shifted. Some species, such as Burmese pythons Python bivittatus, showed low invasion risk based on climatic suitability. However, given their large body size, history of invasion and their popularity in the pet trade, they are most likely to escape or be released from captivity and become invasive. A total of 76 reptile species were assessed for environmental and socio-economic impacts using the Generic Impact Scoring System (GISS), Environmental Impact Classification for Alien Taxa (EICAT), and Socio-Economic Impact Classification for Alien Taxa (SEICAT). Using GISS, we found that 13 species had environmental impacts (E_GISS), while 11 species had socio-economic impacts (SE_GISS). For EICAT and SEICAT, 13 species had environmental impacts, and eight had socio-economic impacts, respectively. The most popular pet species, red-tailed boa Boa constrictor, green iguana Iguana iguana, P. bivittatus, T. elegans, and central bearded dragon Pogona vitticeps had impacts in all the three scoring schemes. The later species and corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus) scored the highest for all impact schemes. Species sold in high numbers, with large climatically suitability and potential impacts, are more likely to establish feral populations and become invasive should they escape or be released from captivity. We, therefore, recommended that the trade in pet reptiles should be constantly monitored to avoid new introductions and the implications that the pet trade may have to the country.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.