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Review:  The U. S. Role in the International Reptile Trade - Amazon Tree Boas to Zululand Dwarf Chameleons,   Author - Craig Hoover, Traffic North America,  August 1998. -   Reviewer Darrell Senneke  

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At first glance this report is intimidating because of the incredible number and size of the tables contained in it.  Upon closer examination it proves to be laid out well and makes for fascinating reading.  Mr. Hoover has attempted in this one report to encapsulate the role of the United states in the international reptile trade between 1983 and 1996. 


As the source for his figures relating to totals  Hoover uses the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Law Enforcement Management Information System (LEMIS) database, Fish and Wildlife Import/Export Declaration Forms not yet entered into LEMIS, a U.S. Customs database called the Automated Commercial System (ACS) and the CITES annual report information. Price and Availability data were combined from more than 200 price lists distributed by live reptile dealers in the United States.


Approximately 100 species were chosen for inclusion in this report with the analyses conducted on a regional basis around the world.  Because the data presented are of animals declared to the various organizations all numbers should be considered the bare minimum in the trade.


What becomes immediately apparent when reading this report is that it will be a Godsend for herpetologists writing papers and articles.  No where else that I know of can one find information so easily for citation of traffic in  a species.  If one were writing a paper on Impressed tortoises (Manouria impressa) the data indicating that in 1990,  706 specimens of this species were in the trade - of which zero entered the United States becomes easily obtainable in Table 7 and Table 12.


What this report does very well is make one aware of the sheer volume of the trade.   Numbers like 10,000 Spur-thighed Tortoises (T. graeca) legally imported into the United States in 1987 or 9,814 Bell’s Hingebacks (K. belliana) imported in 1989  are mind numbing - and lead one to wonder “Where are they now?”


Another apparent fact gleaned from this report is that there are no apparent trends. Why were 10,016 Russian Tortoises ( T. horsfieldii ) imported in 1990 and zero in 1991, yet in the international trade there were 12,831 in 1990 and 24,185 in 1991?  This is not explained and perhaps is unknown. Is it availability or simply fad?  This type of bouncing in numbers imported happens in nearly all species.


Another section of the report deals with the export of North American species. Once again the numbers reported are amazing. Between 1992 and 1994 more than 74,000 Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina) were exported - considering the difficulty of properly maintaining Terrapene species in captivity this is a very sad piece of data.


What this report is intended to do it does very well,  it accurately reports the numbers of specimens in the legal trade for the subject years both into and out of the United States as well as giving a brief International overview. What it does not do is address the impact of the far Eastern food markets. Food animals are not mentioned other than supposition that a lot of the North American turtle exports are going to the food markets.  The same applies to the imports, we know from the tables that 1,109 Chinese Box Turtles (C. flavomarginata) and 8,946 Malayan Box Turtles (C.  amboinensis) were imported into the United States in 1995 but how many more went to the Far East “wet “ markets?  This information may not be available other than by estimates but we know it to be many times the volume coming into the United States.   Mr. Hoover does not address this issue in this report as it is not what he was investigating but it would be well for the reader to keep this in mind.


I would love to have seen this report expanded in one particular manner.  I think this is more of a desire by myself to see the numbers massaged in a certain way rather than by any shortcoming on the part of Mr. Hoover.  It is correctly reported that the United States is a huge player in the international reptile trade as an importer, exporter and re-exporter - constituting more than 82% of the world trade in 1992. I would also have liked to see the figures after the Green iguana (Iguana iguana) and the Red-eared Sliders (T. scripta) were removed from the list.  This information is in the report and Mr. Hoover does expend quite a bit of space on just this subject but I would have liked a bit more massaging of that 82% number.   The report does indeed report the raw numbers of the two above species. For example, 7,725,975 Red-eared Sliders were exported and 1,143,720 Iguanas were imported in 1995. 


In conclusion,  I think that this report deserves a place on any serious herpetologists bookshelf. The raw data alone make it a worthwhile acquisition and an invaluable resource.  The examination of these data by Craig Hoover  gives a good overview of the state of the legal international reptile trade in the years covered.  I would like to see food market data included in any future edition of this as well as a breakdown as to the percentages of North American exports that end up in the food markets as well, but as it stands,  it is a fine piece of work.   

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