“Although exotic pets are technically alive, in terms of conservation they might as well be dead. Removed from nature, they no longer play any meaningful role for their species or ecosystem.”

– Rachel Love Nuwer


Ban Animal Trading (BAT) and the EMS Foundation (EMS) have, over a number of years, been collecting information, doing fieldwork, undertaking research and analysing data on South Africa’s international and so-called ‘legal’ trade in live wild animals.

This report― ‘Plundered: South Africa’s cold-blooded international reptile trade’―is the third in The Extinction Business Series. The two previous reports examined South Africa’s lion bone trade1 and South Africa’s live wildlife trade with China. Both reports discuss in full how loopholes and ineffectual controls in the permit system, which includes CITES, are enabling international laundering and smuggling of live wildlife. The same applies to the global trade in live reptiles and amphibians, which is discussed below.

The international trade in the majority of reptiles, amphibians and arachnids is mostly unregulated, often unlawful and a growing industry in South Africa. Data on the trade in these species is unreliable and insufficient, because most countries do not keep records or compile data unless the species is listed on the CITES Appendices. Even then the data is incomplete. One reason for this is that, unlike so-called charismatic species such as lions, elephants, tigers and primates―perceived to have higher intrinsic value―reptiles, including species such as snakes, lizards, turtles, tortoises, alligators and crocodiles are, in terms of public perception, and often because of the negative stereotypes attached to them, considered less desirable creatures, lack the charismatic appeal of anthropomorphic species and consequently they are afforded less attention.

Reptiles also lack the repertoire of facial expressions and vocalizations that would alert keepers to their pain and distress. A sick, hurt, or chronically stressed reptile will suffer in silence. The suffering will often be far more prolonged than that experienced by mammals, due to reptiles’ slow metabolic rate. Blood loss and the healing of injuries are both relatively slow, as are the consequent risk of infection and further complications. Reptiles are among the most inhumanely treated animals in the pet trade. Because they often are cheap and easily replaceable, dealers, captive breeders, and retailers factor huge mortality into their operating costs.



Plundered: South Africa’s Cold-Blooded International Reptile Trade is Part 3 in the Ban Animal Trading an EMS Foundation, The Extinction Business Investigative Report Series. The purpose of this Series is to examine South Africa’s international wildlife trade.
South Africa’s Lion Bone Trade (2018) was Part 1 of the Series and can be found here: bone-trade.pdf &

Breaking Point: Uncovering South Africa’s Shameful Live Wildlife Trade with China (June 2020) was Part 2 of the Series and can be found here: &

The mention of any individual, company, organisation, or other entity in this report does not imply the violation of any law or international agreement, and should not be construed as such.

© 2020 Ban Animal Trading and EMS Foundation. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing.


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