Growing Deception: Farms Mask Illicit Traffic in Wild Pythons

According to a new study published in the journal Biological Conservation, breeding farms in Indonesia are being used to launder thousands of illegally caught snakes each year. Authors Jessica Lyons and Daniel Natusch of the University of New South Wales report that “at least 80% of the green pythons exported from Indonesia annually are illegally wild-caught,” and that a vast number of these are processed as “captive-bred” to circumvent Indonesian and international law. Based on surveys of wildlife traders conducted between August 2009 and April 2011, the authors estimate that at least 5,337 green pythons—a protected species in Indonesia—are collected each year, primarily for the pet trade. The authors further report, “The general health of green pythons being traded was poor. We observed hundreds of snakes that were malnourished, showing symptoms of disease and/or infection, or were dead.” Lyons and Natusch provided a number of recommendations, including increased monitoring of breeding farms, education of consumers, and the use of egg shells to prove an animal was bred in captivity to reduce the threat of this illegal trade to wild snake populations.

In related news, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced in January a ban on importation and interstate transport of four non-native species of snakes and their eggs: the Burmese python, the northern and southern African pythons, and the yellow anaconda. These four snakes are believed to represent a grave threat to sensitive ecosystems. Burmese pythons (likely descended from escaped or released pets) have already established a foothold in the Everglades and prey on endangered native species.

The USFWS continues to evaluate whether to extend the ban to an additional five snake species—the reticulated python, boa constrictor, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda—as called for in a bill introduced in the House in January of last year (H.R. 511), a bill which AWI strongly supports.