News of yet another bust this week involving exotic reptiles being smuggled into Australia has highlighted further deficiencies in terms of Australian government policy and laws in terms of dealing with exotic reptiles.
Laws are administered differently between states with some allowing smuggled in reptiles to be kept as pets and others not, while courts also act differently in such cases.
In one case a man caught with a suitcase full of lizards got 18 months jail, while in another case this year a woman facing similar charges with an incubator full of eggs from American Corn Snakes got a good behaviour bond.
Both these cases were in Victoria.
This inconstancy is fueling the perception that illegal trade in reptiles is worthwhile and undermines those who remain within the law, conservation co-ordination and poses a potential disease risk to locally occurring species due to the obvious quarantine breaches.
The bust this week of a man at Sydney Airport with four Asian King Cobras and Four south american Green Boas highlights another issue in terms of non-native reptiles and that is the bringing in of disease.
Currently a previously unknown Reovirus appears to be sweeping through reptile collections in Australia causing die-offs.
The reovirus is particularly deadly to elapid snakes, some of which are listed by State governments as vulnerable.
This virus, not thought native to Australia is believed to have come in about two years back on some legally imported King Cobras that went to a private zoo in NSW.
Without knowing they had the infection in their collection, infected reptiles that carried the virus without external signs of ill-health were then sent elsewhere and hence the infection spread.
An exotic fungus (Chytrid) native to Africa has caused mass extinction's of frogs along the Eastern Seaboard of Australia so the situation in terms of exotic reptiles must be addressed sooner, not later.
Questions to be addressed include:
- Should non-natives be allowed into Australia and if so, should certain people be allowed (e.g. Zoos) and no one else, or basically should everyone be treated the same.
- For consistency an "all or nothing" approach is preferred, whereby everyone is subject to the same rules.
- What regulatory regime can be introduced to either properly stop the ongoing illegal trade or make it legal if deemed appropriate and carrying appropriate safeguards against escape risks, disease, etc.
- What protocols should be introduced for dealing with exotic diseases either now in this country or likely to be brought in terms of reptiles in the captivity and wild, including with reptiles presently kept Australia-wide.
Noting that native species may be at risk due to the currently unknown risk from viruses and the like, the legal issues should be dealt with sooner, rather than later.
Phone: Raymond Hoser, author of