The role of the Netherlands in the reptile trade

by Sep 27, 2019Press Releases

Potential illegality of some reptiles traded in and through the Netherlands, and the difficulties of regulating trade within the European single market.

A study by Monitor Conservation Research Society shines the spotlight on the Netherlands as a noteworthy player in the trade of species not listed on Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The role of the Netherlands in the reptile trade reveals that though the Netherlands has long been considered a significant player in the international live reptile trade, it does not rank among the top three traders within the European Union (EU) when it comes to the export and import of reptiles listed in CITES.

Instead, the issue of concern centres on the trade of non-CITES-listed species and the flourishing Dutch domestic live reptile market. Some of the species traded from and within the Netherlands have no legal import records, are prohibited in the EU, or are subject to export bans in their countries of origin.

The Netherlands’ role in the international reptile trade is inseparably linked to that of the EU. The EU Single Market allows goods to move freely among EU Member States, which complicates national trade analysis and poses enforcement challenges. Further, the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations do not automatically prohibit the trade in species that are protected in their countries of origin.

Between 2004 and 2017, at least 1, 342, 541 live reptiles were imported into the Netherlands, and 106, 898 exported. Of the imported reptiles, 188, 015 were CITES-listed from 47 countries. In that same period, 9, 917 live reptiles were exported to 25 countries with nearly 70 percent of these sourced from a third country. This confirms the Netherlands’ role as a transit hub.

The Dutch domestic live reptile market appears to be substantial. The study found 1,260 advertisements for 4,663 reptiles of 346 different species in a 22-day survey of the country’s main online trade platforms. Of note is that vendors from 14 countries advertised live reptiles targeting the Dutch reptile market. While the majority of the observed trade could be considered legal, some was illegal and/or unsustainable.

The study also highlights loopholes in the existing EU Wildlife Trade Regulations that enable the laundering of protected, wild-caught reptiles that are falsely declared as captive-bred.

“Importing countries should have policies and mechanisms to ensure imported wildlife has been harvested legally in the countries of origin,” says Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Monitor’s Executive Director. Examples are the Iraqi Mastigure Saara loricata and the Northern Ridge-tailed Monitor Varanus primordius, for which no EU import records were found, suggesting they were smuggled into the EU before reaching the Netherlands. Once such animals have entered the EU internal market, it becomes very difficult to determine their illegal origins.

“Reptile collectors in the Netherlands need to be more aware of the fact that their pets might have been smuggled into the EU,” says the study’s lead author, Monitor’s Jordi Janssen.

This study was generously funded by WWF-Netherlands. 

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