20 July 2012

European Union debates ban on pet reptiles

Legislation currently being drafted by the EU Commission could effectively ban the keeping of many common reptile and amphibian species; so says the UK's leading governmental adviser on exotic pets. Chris Newman of the Reptile and Exotic Pet Trade Association (REPTA) says that few reptile keepers or businesses are aware of the pending legislation, or the potentially devastating consequences it will have for traders and pet owners.

Legislators are currently discussing ways to control species which are 'alien' to the European Union, with a ban on importation, transportation, trading and even keeping alien species being considered. Changes to the law will be implemented sometime later this year. The move comes in an attempt to kerb the spread of Invasive Alien Species (IAS) which are said to cost around 13 billion Euros each year. "Whilst on the face of it this legislation might seem like a sensible precaution it is very likely that the new rules will be unnecessary and heavy handed" commented Newman during a recent interview for PBW.

Newman continued, "Rest assured that there WILL be new laws and they WILL affect everyone involved with reptiles. It is important that reptile traders and keepers are active in the decision making to stop the process being hi-jacked. We know that some of the more extreme animal welfare groups looking to exploit this opportunity to push their agenda. Pet keepers need to get on board to make sure the new laws are fair. The industry must mobilise itself to limit the damage."

URGENT

The closing date for public consultation responses is 12th April.
Make your views known NOW by following the link at the end of this story.

The main risk to pet keepers appears to be the option for the E.U. Commission to introduce a 'white-list' of legal species, as opposed to a 'black-list' of those animals that are known to pose a risk to native ecosystems. Whilst a white-list is widely understood as most easily administered option, experts strongly criticise this approach. Only 15% of the more than 11,000 alien plants and animals in the UE are considered damaging to biodiversity, which experts say proves that 'white-list' legislation is unviable and unnecessary. "A 'black-list' would be fairer and more effective." states Newman, "A list of species that are proven to be sufficiently hazardous to each native ecosystem and introduced on a country specific basis."

It is also unclear if the new laws will form a blanket ban that would affect trade, importation and possession of new unlawful species, or if each part of the hobby would be served by separate legislation. Neither is it known if the new legislation will be rolled out across the whole of Europe or if appropriate laws will be introduced on a country by country basis. "Californian King Snakes have been found in the wild in the sub-tropical climate of the Canary Islands, and many think that they are breeding there. Whilst it could be argued that this species is a threat in that part of Europe, blanket legislation banning Lampropeltis species in European countries such as the UK or Norway is unnecessary as these animals cannot survive in colder climates." said Newman.

"We cannot ignore this issue. It is the greatest threat our hobby has ever faced. The new laws have the potential to ruin every business associated with reptiles and there is even the possibility that reptile keepers could be forced to destroy their pets." continued Newman. "The worst possible case scenarios are a distinct possibility. Commonly kept pet species could become illegal overnight, forcing dedicated keepers underground to avoid euthanising their animals. This would have serious consequences for welfare as acquiring veterinary care could be impossible for those who keep banned species."

Herp professionals and organisations in the USA have also issued a warning to British herpers. Similar legislation in the US has already imposed a ban on the importation of four species of large boids and more reptiles look set to join this list. Experts there warn that the legislative processes in the E.U. bear the same hallmarks as those they have been campaigning against. USA industry experts predict that the E.U. legislative process will be 'piggy-backed' by the scientific community as large amounts of funding become available to study the IAS issue. "It has already happened here." says Andrew Wyatt from the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK). "A small circle of scientists here have pioneered a new field of science called 'invasive biology'. Our experience is that they are short on actual scientific data and heavy on supposition and speculation. Of course this suits the scientific movement just fine because so long as they have something to study, they can continue to attract funding. It kinda perpetuates itself and ignores the large body of contradictory evidence that disproves their theories and conclusions. The scientific community here in the USA doesn't seem interested in finding answers to the problem; only in securing more funding for its programs and scientists."

The American issue has been steadily growing over the last few years as environmentalist and scientific groups make best use of the media to garner support from an uninformed public, releasing anecdotal and poorly researched information to the press. This media exposure is the primary form of attack and stirs up the false public perception that invasive reptiles are laying waste to the indigenous bird and mammal species. Throw electioneering and political funding from radical environmental groups into the equation and the problem is compounded. After watching the situation unfold in the USA, legislators, politicians, scientists and animal welfare groups in the UK and across Europe have begun making moves in the same direction.

"You guys in the UK and across Europe need to get organised... and quickly." Wyatt says.

Reptile keepers and businesses in the UK and across Europe can find out more by reading the information at www.f-b-h.org where official position of the Federation of British Herpetoculturists is outlined.

You can take action and make your views known by completing the consultation questionnaire at http://ec.europa.eu/environment/consultations/invasive_aliens.htm.

The response given by the Federation of British Herpetoculturists may be used for guidance but is important that you complete the questionnaire with the answers you feel are most appropriate.

The consultation takes just a few minutes to complete but it is vitally important that your opinions are considered in this issue. Please note that the closing date for completed questionnaires is 12th April and so responses are urgently required.


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