Amphibian and Reptile Trade in Texas: Current Status and Trends



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The non-game wildlife trade poses a risk to our natural landscape, natural heritage, economy, and security. Specifically, the trade in non-game reptiles and amphibians exploits native populations, and is likely not sustainable for many species. Exotic amphibian and reptile species pose risk of invasion and directly or indirectly alter the native landscape. The extent of non-game amphibian and reptile trade is not fully understood and is poorly documented. To quantitatively describe the trade in Texas, I solicited data from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) Law Enforcement Management Information System (LEMIS) and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's (TPWD) non-game dealer permits. I surveyed amphibian and reptile pet owners, breeders, Internet sites, pet shops, and meat and seafood establishments by visits, electronic surveys, and observations. The trade in exotic species of amphibians and reptiles in the state of Texas was found to be popular in two ways; the importation of wildlife products and sale of live specimens for pets. Persisting in the pet trade were species known to be exotic, a problem made worse by lack of regulations governing the import, export, and keeping of exotic species. Trade in wild collected native species was primarily for export to foreign countries. Collection of turtles from the wild in Texas was heavy until 2008, when TPWD restricted collection to private waters. Collection of other species from the wild was minimal, with the exception of the Western Diamond-backed Rattlsnake (Crotalus atrox) for rattlesnake roundups. Native species were found to exist in the pet trade, but primarily as genetic color variants that do not occur in the wild, an indication that captive breeding may be relieving pressures on wild caught specimens. Minor changes in reporting requirements and permitting systems at the state and federal level would improve the management of exotic and native amphibians and reptiles that persist in the trade. Changes that include standardized taxonomic reporting requirements at state and federal level, streamlined permitting system for individuals wishing to collect from the wild in Texas, bag limits and seasons for wild collection, increased reporting requirements for owners of exotics, and enforcement of reporting errors would aid in management of exotic and native amphibians and reptiles in the trade.