Marine Reptiles: Sea Living Snakes, Iguanas, Crocodiles, Turtles
There are 62 species of snake, one lizard, one crocodile, and seven turtles living in the world’s oceans today. Many more reptiles lived in the sea in the past.
These reptiles spend most, or all of their time at sea. Some are so well adapted to life in the water that they have lost the ability to move effectively on land. They are all air breathing, so they need to surface to breathe. They feed mainly on fish and all are venomous, some deadly.
The Marine Iguana
Amblyrhynchus cristatus is found only on the Galapagos Islands, and it is the only living marine lizard. It spends much of its time ashore, but enters the water and dives down to browse on seaweeds.
The Saltwater or Estuarine Crocodile
Crocodylus poros is the largest of all living reptiles. It can be over 20 feet long, and weigh as much as 800kg. Enormous adults will eat anything they can grab, including humans and fully grown water buffalo! They are found from Northern Australia to India, and spend part of their time in estuaries and part far out at sea. There are only one or two human deaths per year in Australia, but hundreds are thought to be killed by these crocodiles every year in the rest of their range. The only natural enemies of an adult Saltwater Crocodile are Tiger and Great White Sharks – and other adult crocodiles!
There are seven species of Sea Turtle alive today, and they are found in all the world’s oceans except the Arctic Ocean. The Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) can be found in all tropical and sub-tropical waters, both in the Atlantic and the Pacific. All species need to come ashore to lay their eggs, and this is where they are most vulnerable. All are threatened to some extent, but the Leatherback, Kemp’s Ridley, and Hawksbill Turtles are listed as critically endangered
Extinct Marine Reptiles
There were once many superbly adapted marine reptiles, but most died out around 65 million years ago with the dinosaurs, and their niches have been taken over by the marine mammals.
There are tantalising myths and legends from around the world that hint at the possible survival of some ancient marine reptiles in large deep freshwater lakes. The ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland is one example, the ‘Ogopogo’ in Lake Okanagan, British Columbia another. While most zoologists remain highly sceptical about their possible survival some people have suggested that they might be descendents of the plesiosaurs. (Look at the reconstruction of ‘Ogopogo’!)…Read the article.
Most Outrageous Live Reptile Smuggling Stories
Illegally traded live reptiles comprise a huge but largely hidden international black market.
Rob Laidlaw’s report Scales and Tails – The Welfare and Trade of Reptiles Kept as Pets in Canada estimates that the global value of smuggled animals including reptiles exceeds US$10 billion per year.
Even though that estimate based on statistics from the usually credible source Interpol, it is still only a guess; other sources speculate that the illegal wildlife trade is as high as $30 billion per year. Exact numbers are not available simply because of the relative ease of smuggling wild reptiles past overworked customs officials. This is particularly true during peak border crossing times.
Below are some of the most outrageous stories where the perpetrators were caught attempting to smuggle live lizards, tortoises, turtles and snakes into other countries.
Lizards Hidden In German Smuggler’s Underwear
A German man was arrested at a New Zealand airport when shocked customs officials discovered 24 live geckos and 20 skinks hidden inside 8 hand-sewn compartments in his altered underwear.
In a January 2010 article, Thaindian News estimated that the reptile smuggler could have sold the 44 hidden lizards for roughly $100,000 in Europe.
The perpetrator with the reptilian underwear was sentenced to 14 weeks in prison and a $3,540 fine for his crimes.
Had the German wildlife poacher made the 21-hour flight from New Zealand to Germany without detection, he would have been on his way to becoming a wealthy man.
Reptile King Caught with 1475 Live Reptiles in Van
This past April, a 32-year-old Canadian man pleaded guilty to hiding the following live reptiles in the side panels of his GMC Safari van:
- 1,426 turtles
- 36 tortoises
- 13 snakes.
Of the 1,475 reptiles seized, 36 tortoises and 9 snakes were listed as protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The Canadian reptile poacher had arranged live specimens from American suppliers to be shipped to a courier operation in New York State. The accused then took his wife and two children on a supposed shopping trip to an American Walmart store while he drove to the courier center to pick up containers stuffed with live reptiles.
SunMedia’s Rob Lamberti reported that the seized reptiles could have fetched roughly $50,000 (Canadian currency) had they been sold in the illegal pet trade.
The Ontario Court of Justice imposed a:
- 6-month jail sentence
- 3-year ban on importing or exporting live animals unannounced residence searches by wildlife officers during the 3-year ban period
- $500 fine under the Administrative Monetary Penalty System (AMPS).
In addition, the reptile smuggler will have to pay over $5,700 in restitution charges for care of the captured snakes, tortoises and turtles. This includes transportation charges for returning many of the reptiles to their native Louisiana marshes, and fees incurred to move some of the protected species to qualified care centers.
Smuggled Snakes Almost on a Plane
September 2010 was a busy month for reptile smugglers at airports in two South East Asian countries notorious as distribution hubs for the illegal wildlife trade.
In Malaysia, a suitcase crammed with 95 boa constrictors accidentally opened on a conveyor belt at the Kuala Lumpur airport. Also scrunched inside the suitcase were two rare rhinoceros vipers and a matamata turtle. This past September, the Malaysian reptile trafficker was sent to prison for six months and fined $65,000.
Also in September 2010, Indonesian officials at a Jakarta airport intercepted shipping containers in which 25 bags of rat snakes plus almost 3,500 pig-nosed turtles were hidden.
In total, two tons of live reptiles were jammed into shipping containers labeled “fresh fruit” destined for the Indonesian capital.
On the global black market, Jakarta is well known for expositions in which endangered species including tortoises and other reptiles are readily available.
Big Cash for Live Reptiles on Black Market
These outrageous reptile smuggling stories have common threads, even if the crimes involved different reptile species and were committed in distant countries around the globe.
Big money is often involved. Air cargo is frequently the preferred method of transportation, partly because the reptiles can be squeezed into smaller containers and weigh less than other animals. There is also the perception that reptiles require little care and can survive longer than other forms of wildlife like birds.
Perhaps the biggest concern for wildlife environmentalists is how relatively small the penalties are for reptiles smugglers.
Given the relatively low inspection rates by overworked customs officials, that low risk-reward ratio can encourage repeat offenders to continue their quest for easy cash rewards.…Read the article.
Top Canadian Importers of Wild Reptiles
The end-use for most live reptiles imported into Canada is to serve as exotic pets. Over two-thirds of legally imported reptiles arrive in Canada from the United States.
According to the 2009-2010 National Pet Owners Survey, 4.7 million U.S. households own one or more live reptiles as pets. This amounts to 13.6 million pet reptiles in the United States alone.
The Canadian reptile trade is not nearly as large as that in America. In his analysis titled ‘Scales and Tails – The Welfare and Trade of Reptiles Kept as Pets in Canada’, Rob Laidlaw estimates that many thousands of reptiles are sold annually to Canadian pet owners.
Two paragraphs later, author Laidlaw quotes an executive director from the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Center who admits that there are no credible statistics on the number of exotic animals brought into Canada.
Permits Required for Imported Reptiles
Turtles and tortoises require an import permit before delivery in Canada. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) governs those permits principally because of potential diseases that the imported lizards could bring into Canada.
Any reptile species on the potentially endangered species lists from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) also can only be cleared with a special import permit.
Live reptiles with import permits are tracked by Statistics Canada, so at least those numbers are available.
Top Importers of Live Reptiles into Canada
The following 7 Canadian companies accounted for 80% of the over $1 million worth of live reptiles legally imported into Canada in 2009.
- Little Fish Aquatics/The Little Fish Company (Surrey, British Columbia)
- Massassauga Imports (Acton, Ontario)
- Mirdo Importations Canada (Montréal, Québec)
- Port Credit Pet Centre/National Reptile Supply (Mississauga, Ontario)
- Reptics XS (Les Cèdres, Québec)
- Reptile Amazone (Montréal, Québec)
- The Urban Reptile (Woodbridge, Ontario)
The top 3 importing countries were responsible for 60% of the overall total.
The above companies are not end users of the imported live reptiles. Instead, they buy the reptiles at wholesale prices for resale to Canadian consumers.
Three of the reptile importing companies are in the central province of Ontario, two others are in neighboring Québec while Little Fish Aquatics (also known as The Little Fish Company) is in the west coast province of British Columbia.
Reptile Importer Websites
Among the top 7 import companies, only Reptics XS does not have a website to sell its live reptiles online. The Québec firm does use Twitter to market its products, however.
The most detailed website belongs to Port Credit Pet Centre. Available reptiles, feeders and supplies are all listed with photos and text descriptions. Their Spotlight section highlights different species of reptiles, like the red footed tortoise which is a protected breed under CITES. Also included are prices on available reptiles; baby red footed tortoises are listed at C$395.
In contrast, Massasauga Imports has a sparser website that emphasizes contact information.
Only registered members with a user name and password can view product and service information on the Mirdo Importations website.
The Urban Reptile home page gives visitors the choice of visiting two other domains, either the Urban Gecko or the Urban Python. Both sites list available geckos and pythons for sale with prices and photographs.
Reptile Amazone’s website presents the least information, giving only its retail and wholesale store address, hours and contact information.
The Little Fish Company website looks like a personalized blog. And, the website also has customer-friendly features. These include a photo gallery of reptiles and amphibians for sale with corresponding prices. There is also an online feature for tracking purchases shipped via 10 different transportation companies.…Read the article.