Science Focus - the home of BBC Science Focus Magazine
Lack of regulation in pet reptile trade could be putting thousands of species in peril, study finds © Getty Images

Lack of regulation in pet reptile trade could be putting thousands of species in peril, study finds

Published: 29th September, 2020 at 16:02
Subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine and get 6 issues for just £9.99

Up to three-quarters of reptile species being traded as pets are not covered by international trade regulations, the researchers say

Most people think of dogs as being humans’ best friends. But as far back as 2008, a survey by the British Federation for Herpetologists found that reptiles outnumbered dogs as the top pet in the UK, with an estimated eight million being kept in homes across the country.


Despite this, many of these animals are not bred in captivity but are instead captured in the wild with international regulations on trade applying to less than 10 per cent of the more than 11,000 known reptile species on Earth.

Now, a study from Thailand's Suranaree University of Technology and the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) has found that the lack of regulation is leading to huge numbers of reptile species being exploited.

Read more about reptiles:

The researchers pieced together data from existing trade databases with an online survey of reptile retailers to create a global estimate of the reptile trade including the endangered status of species, and the extent of wild capture.

“Based on two international trade databases and information scraped from 24,000 web pages in five languages, we found that over 36 per cent of reptile species are in trade - totalling almost 4,000 species,” said Dr Alice Hughes of XTBG.

They also found that about three-quarters of reptile species being traded are not covered by international trade regulations, and many of these are endangered or range-restricted species, especially from hotspots within Asia. Furthermore, around 90 per cent of traded reptile species and half of the individual traded animals are estimated to be captured from the wild.


"If we fail to mitigate the impacts of unregulated, but legal trade, small-ranged and endemic species may be the next victims of the ongoing biodiversity crisis," said Dr Hughes.

Reader Q&A: How do chamleons change colour?

Asked by: Abigail Jones, York

Chameleons may be the masters of disguise but their motivation for changing colour is often more to do with temperature regulation and communication than camouflage. They possess special cells in their skin called chromatophores that reflect light and contain sacs of different coloured pigments. A change in body temperature or mood will result in the nervous system triggering the expansion or contraction of particular chromatophores.

Incredibly, the chameleon can literally ‘pick ’n’ mix’ the colours that are created during this mind-boggling process – all within seconds of responding to an external environmental change or the presence of a potential mate or enemy.

Read more about reptiles:


Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.


Sponsored content