is one of the biggest threats to Tanzania’s unique biodiversity
Tanzania is home to 1077 species listed as threatened by the IUCN Red list (CR, EN and VU 2015). This is the 6th highest number of any country in the world, and the highest in Africa. It indicates both exceptional biodiversity as well as high levels of threat. Perhaps the single biggest danger to this unique biodiversity is the trade – both legal and illegal - in wild-caught animals for the international pet industry, a significant proportion of which is in reptiles and amphibians. Again, Tanzania ranks highest in mainland Africa for threatened species in both groups. The country is home to 360 reptile species of which 85 are endemic and 206 amphibians of which 86 are endemic.
Legal wildlife trade is nominally regulated by CITES, although in Tanzania the CITES process faces many challenges including a disconnect between export quotas and science. Furthermore many species such as reptiles and amphibians are very difficult to census. In 2015 export quotas totaled 64,921 animals (not including trophies) of which 78% were reptiles. Of the reptiles, just over half were chameleons comprising 26 different species. Tanzania is home to 37 chameleon species of which 23 are endemic. Seven chameleon species have been discovered since 2000, so like other recent discoveries, many are not listed.
Monitoring quotas and exports is complex as well as expensive, with most species are hard to identify without knowledge and skill. In addition, it is almost impossible to determine which individuals are wild caught and which are bred in captivity – many of the former are exported illegally as the latter. Little information is available regarding where animals are being sourced. Many species are only found in national parks and forest reserves, where policing is inadequate and under-resourced and harvesting illegal. A high proportion of animals also die in transit and there is no sign of the demand decreasing - especially in Europe and North America. Even with more research, monitoring and law enforcement, sustainable wild caught off-take is almost impossible to define, so a precautionary approach is desperately needed.
WCS Tanzania has collected a considerable amount of biodiversity data from surveys across the country, adding to both new species discoveries and knowledge on existing taxa. This ongoing research feeds into both IUCN Red List and CITES evaluations. WCS is also informing a campaign aiming for #zerowildcaught. Our research and monitoring work also aids identification and policing of wildlife trade in the landscapes in which we work.