When it comes to animal protection, attentions are giving mainly to elephants, rhinos, and tigers, while thousands of other animal species are being sold into extinction due to negligence. This is the case with the lizard-like crocodile skinks, which have become popular exotic pets in places like the United States.
All the 10 species of crocodile skinks with their large, anime eyes and dinosaur-like head plates are becoming more endangered as they are now objects of illegal international trade. Thousands of these lizards are sold out from New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Indonesia, on yearly basis without anyone bothering to know where they are ending up or if the species are going into extinction.
No one seems to care because they were not protected by the 45-year-old treaty that’s meant to ensure that international commercial trade of wildlife is not endangering plants and animals.
A close observation shows that species like crocodile skinks are being overlooked by CITES. “Is largely a free for all,” said Chris Shepherd, the executive director of Monitor, a non-governmental organization that advocates for an end to illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade. “We’re losing many of them because the trade is going on unnoticed.”
Regulations under CITES demands that animals and plants are added to one of three lists, which determine levels of permitted trade. Usually, highly endangered species are barred from trade, while those that are less threatened can only be traded with permits. Nearly all countries of the world are signatories to CITES and their trades are recorded in an open database.
The problem, however, is that plants and animals are not recognized automatically by CITES. Rather, their inclusion in whatever of the CITES list is mainly determined by each country as they felt appropriate.
Shepherd argued that most countries don’t act until certain species have reached crisis mode before attempting to add them to a CITES listing. In most instances, it is may be too late to remedy the losses.
According to Shepherd, the gap is too wide: “There are as many, or perhaps even more, non-CITES-listed species in international trade as listed ones.” Out of the 10,700 reptile species in the world, only 8% are recognized by the treaty. Needless to say, crocodile skink is not listed.
“Indeed, most countries’ customs agencies only concern themselves with CITES-listed species,” said John Scanlon, former Secretary-General of CITES. He reiterated that animals are not on the list are never checked on arrival, “there is no check on whether the specimens have been legally sourced and there is no mandated reporting on the trade.”
Some of the overlooked animals and plants include many threatened and even critically endangered species. “They’re not on CITES because no one has championed them yet,” said Vincent Nijman, an anthropologist at Oxford Brookes University, in the U.K. “If no one proposes a listing, then nothing will happen.”
This negligence affects not only reptiles but amphibians, songbirds, invertebrates, fish, as well as small mammals. “By and large, people have a very limited view of what international wildlife trade is because they always see the same few species, all of which are mammals and all of which are traded, at most, in the tens of thousands,” added Nijman. “For people who are actually more aware of the full scope of wildlife trade, tens of thousands is a Wednesday afternoon,” he concluded.