20 July 2012

Shell Shocked!

By Tony Jones

Reptile retailers are being caught out following a recent crack down by government wildlife agencies, with some traders being stripped of their pet shop licences, prosecuted and even jailed. The crackdown follows a bungled and poorly administered change in the law regarding the sale of some pet tortoise species, despite traders not being notified of the rule change.

The Article 10 CITES rules governing the trade in popular pet species, such as Hermann and Spur Thigh tortoises, were changed sometime around 2005 despite warnings and advice from the government's own industry advisors that the changes were unnecessary and inefficient. The new law requires the update of CITES paperwork each time an animal changes hands with an additional administration fee of £25 for each transaction in 2009. Trade in tortoises has become a primary focus for enforcement officials.

Illegal trade?

"It is often claimed there is a mass trade in illegal tortoises, this is not true. There is a trade in legal tortoises being traded illegally through misunderstanding of the complex bureaucracy over Article 10 certificates" - Chris Newman, REPTA.

Poor Communication

PBW found out that government officials were advised to notify importers and traders of the changes in legislation but declined to do so, leaving traders unaware that they were in breach of the new laws.

Chris Newman from REPTA was part of the government's advisory committee discussing the rule changes in 2005. At the time, Chris voiced his concern that surrounding the sale of Herman's tortoises with expensive and unnecessary administration would shift the trade towards the Horsfield tortoise, a less strictly monitored species. Although Horsfield tortoises do make suitable indoor pets, many UK tortoise customers aspire to a pet which can be kept outdoors, such as the Hermann's.

Before the crackdown, ninety percent of the tortoises sold in the UK were Hermann's species. Since the crackdown Chris's fears have become a reality as importers and wholesalers responded. Trade in Hermann tortoises has subsequently plummeted and Horsfield tortoises have filled the gap in the market.

Chips with everything

The new legislation and subsequent crackdown is mainly focussed on Annex A animals below 10cm in length. Animals over 10cm are large enough to be fitted with a microchip and so can be allocated an individual certificate called a Specimen Specific certificate. These are essentially a personal passport type document and can be exchanged during the transaction without any need for amendment.

Tortoises under 10cm are currently too small to be chipped and the rules now insist that CITES paperwork is updated each time an animal changes hands. However, a new smaller microchip chip (called a Nano-chip) is soon to be available and these can be safely implanted into hatchling tortoises. It is hoped that the Nano-chip will negate the unnecessary, expensive and ineffective administration that is currently in place.

Animal Welfare Myth Buster

Animal rights groups endeavour to paint a bleak picture where tortoises for sale in the UK are 'illegally imported' or 'stolen from the wild' or otherwise treated inhumanely. In reality, most of the tortoises sold in Britain are from captive breeding farms in Slovenia and Macedonia where standards of care are very high. Chris Newman visited one such facility in 2009 and was impressed by the breeding and husbandry standards in place there. "Much has changed since the bad old days before the introduction of CITES protection laws in the mid 1980s. Anyone concerned with the welfare tortoises in the pet trade should be supporting the supply of quality Hermann tortoises from organisations such as these. Unfortunately these facilities are currently operating at just half of their usual capacity since the clampdown took effect last year."

Despite the increased administration, Britain's largest importer and wholesaler of tortoises has unveiled a state of the art bio-secure quarantine facility, housing up to 8,000 hatchling tortoises. Zoological International Ltd has designed and built the first self regulated high spec bio-security quarantine facility in the UK.

Temperature, ventilation, ultraviolet lighting, photoperiod, substrate moisture levels and humidity are all closely monitored and controlled in every enclosure. Company director Rick Wilton told us "We take bio-security very seriously. The potential for contamination to spread from one enclosure to another can devastate a whole collection of tortoises and so our systems have been designed to minimise that risk. Herpes is the most common virus found in Horsfield tortoises entering the UK market via other EU countries. We are the only UK distributor of 100% certified ranched Horsfield tortoises. We have had no known cases of Herpes."

Law and record keeping - courtesy Zoological International Ltd

It is important to know that your stock is 100% legal and that you are not encouraging the illegal trade. All of our tortoises are captive bred by government approved breeders and have import cites permits or Art 10 Sales Certificates, issued by Animal Health's Wildlife Licensing and Registration Services at DEFRA.

Annex A species will require one of two Art 10 Certificates.

All Annex A species under 100mm have to be sold with a Transaction Certificate. This certificate is only valid for one transaction from your supplier to you and must have the supplier's name in box one. It is law that you must make an application to Animal Health to change the certificate into your name before you can offer it for sale.

The fee for an application to change an Art 10 Certificate into your name is currently £25 per application. An application can consist of multi applications for certificates, for example; an application can be for as many certificates as purchased specimens, providing they are of the same species, same age and from the same source. The first 6 numbers in the code found at the top right hand side of the Art 10 certificates should be the same to indicate they have all come from the same batch. If when you are purchasing Annex A species, the certificate numbers are not all the same, you may have to unnecessarily pay twice, so this should be checked.

It is also important to note that you are not entitled to sell or offer for sale any tortoise until you have had the new certificate issued in your name. You should also keep photo copies of the application for certificates in case of inspections whilst your application is being dealt with.

The second type of certificate you may come across is a Specimen Specific certificate which means the specimen has been fitted with a microchip and can be identified as an individual, these certificates do not have to be changed and you can sell the specimen with the same certificate.

Tortoise Species Checklist

Hermann tortoiseTestudo hermanniAnnex ACertificate required
Spur-thighed tortoiseTestudo graecaAnnex ACertificate required
Marginated tortoiseTestudo marginataAnnex ACertificate required
Egyptian TortoiseTestudo kleinmanniAnnex ACertificate required
Negev tortoiseTestudo wernei Annex ACertificate required
Radiated tortoise Astrochelys radiataAnnex ACertificate required
Spider TortoisePyxis arachnoides Annex ACertificate required
Pancake TortoiseMalacochersus tornieriAnnex ACertificate required
Horsfield tortoiseAgrionemys horsfieldiAnnex BNot required
Sulcata tortoiseGeochelone sulcataAnnex BNot required
Leopard tortoiseGeochelone pardalisAnnex BNot required
Indian star tortoiseGeochelone elegansAnnex BNot required
Red footed tortoiseGeochelone carbonaria Annex BNot required

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