New research highlights illegal wildlife intercepted at Australian borders and from the wild

New research highlights illegal wildlife intercepted at Australian borders and from the wild


Illegal trading of international wildlife, as well as increases in global trade and tourism, are seeing exotic vertebrate species such as boa constrictors, corn snakes and red-eared slider turtles being intercepted in Australia at an increasing rate, according to new research.

If left unchecked or unregulated, these species could cause major threats to our environment and agricultural industries, especially if they were to establish wild populations in Australia.

The increase in border detections of alien wildlife, including previously undetected species, is representative of both the ever-growing biosecurity threat posed by globalisation and the growing emphasis Australia is placing on its border security.

“Australia has seen an increased number of exotic animal incursions over the past two decades due to expanding tourism and trade,” said Mr Toomes who completed this analysis as part of his PhD studies with the University of Adelaide through the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions.

“The environmental and socioeconomic consequences of invasive alien species can be extreme and range from disease transmission to reduced agricultural productivity, declines in native biodiversity and loss of ecosystem function.

“Our research is currently showing a growing body of evidence that the international pet trade is a predominant pathway for the introduction and establishment of invasive species globally,” Mr Toomes said.

Exotic species such as corn snakes (Pantherophis guttatus), boa constrictors (Boa constrictor), red-eared sliders (T. scripta elegans), Japanese fire-bellied newts (Cynops pyrrhogaster), smooth newts (Lissotriton vulgaris) and leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius) were commonly found at post-border interceptions, due to their value as part of the international pet trade.

Another major issue are stowaway animals, such as Asian black-spined toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), unknowingly transported into new non-native ranges by hitch-hiking on goods such as personal luggage, domestic commodities and shipping containers.

The Centre for Invasive Species Solutions environmental DNA research program led by the University of Canberra is also looking at ways of detecting these species at the border through a real time alert system which can assess DNA fragments in a matter of minutes, rather than days.

Mr Toomes and other University of Adelaide researchers now aim to better understand the online trade in exotic wildlife that is driving illegal incursions in Australia. By identifying trends in the trade of high-risk species, the researchers intend to further advise border security on potential future biosecurity incursions.

You can view the full paper via Wildlife Research – https://doi.org/10.1071/WR18185

You can learn more about this project at its profile page on our website – https://invasives.com.au/research/understanding-intervening-illegal-trade-non-native-species/

This juvenile ball python (Python regius) was legally for sale in a shopfront in Florida but are often seized at the border in Australia, due to illegal trafficking (image taken by Adam Toomes in 2018).

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