A ball python in the wild

EU stops imports of ranched Ball pythons from West Africa


The European Union (EU) has stopped West African imports of ranched Ball pythons – one of Africa’s most traded live wild animals, due to sustainability concerns of the commercial trade and its impact on wild populations.

Ball pythons are one of Africa’s most traded live animals one of the most popular snakes in the global exotic pet trade. More than three million exported from West Africa since the early 1980’s, and total annual exports from Ghana, Togo and Benin averaging 100,000 since 2007.

Lead researcher, Dr Neil D’Cruze, World Animal Protection, said:

"The EU action to stop ranched Ball python imports is a great first step and echoes our research concerns that found that hunters typically target the most vulnerable snakes, such as gravid females and the very young, and use destructive practices for wild Ball python collection including the digging and destruction of its burrows.

"It was particularly disturbing that most of the hunters we interviewed in Benin and Togo reported declines in wild Ball python population numbers, with a high percentage blaming over-exploitation as the root cause. Our research has raised the alarm bell, and it is a great relief to see that the EU has heard it."

Since the early 2000s, most exported Ball pythons have been reported as ranched, which involves the collection of females carrying or developing their eggs (gravid) from the wild to be kept at farms until the eggs have hatched – most snakes are then exported as juveniles at about 15 – 30 days post-hatching. However, monitoring is minimal or non-existent.

Ball python held by hunter - photo by Aaron Gekoski for World Animal Protection

Ball python captured in Ghana. Credit: World Animal Protection / Aaron Gekoski

Lead researcher, Dr Mark Auliya, Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change, said:

"Our research shows that the ranching of Ball pythons at snake farms in West Africa is not an automatic silver bullet for the conservation of this species. Our genetic analysis of wild Ball pythons found that during the ranching process snakes are being released without the proper consideration of where they were sourced from and the habitats they require to survive. This failure leads to the genetic pollution of wild populations that could have serious negative impacts for the conservation status of this species.

"We also found a range of potentially pathogenic bacteria in pythons maintained at registered farms, that if released back into wild populations as part of the ranching system could pose a risk of infectious disease transmission. Likewise, there are also global disease risk implications given that these facilities act as gateways for international export."

CITES trade records document exports of Ball pythons from Benin to 34 different countries, and from both Ghana and Togo to 57 different countries each between 2000-2017. The USA was the largest importer from all three countries during this time.

Between 2012–2016, the most significant importing countries after the USA were: Hong Kong, UK, France, and Spain. Western European countries were prominent as importers from all three countries, comprising 9.1%, 18.3% and 15.1% of exports from Benin, Ghana, and Togo, respectively.

Dr Sandra Altherr, Science Director at the species conservation organisation Pro Wildlife, said:

"Our research has shown that Ball pythons are by far the most popular reptile in the European exotic pet trade and we welcome the news that the EU has considered the latest scientific evidence that has now become available, and taken swift action to safeguard Ball python populations in West Africa.

"In order, for the EU’s trade restrictions to be fully effective, they must also be applied at a global level to stop trade chains from shifting their focus to consumer markets elsewhere. We will ensure the case of the Ball python will also be discussed at the forthcoming CITES conference in November."

Together we can end the global wildlife trade. Forever.

Our research has raised the alarm bell, and it is a great relief to see that the EU has heard it.

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