Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Fish and Wildlife Service Supports First Major Conservation Assessment of Asian Snakes

June 20, 2012


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released on June 19 an assessment supported by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service that added 384 species of snakes found in China and South East Asia to the IUCN's Red List, the most comprehensive information source on the status of plant and animal species worldwide.

Asian snakes are harvested in large numbers for the international skin trade and are also used as food and for traditional medicines. Despite this active market in snakes and their products, the Asian snake trade is one of the largest under-regulated segments of wildlife trade globally.

"We are deeply concerned about the impact that trade may have on wild populations of Asian snakes," said Teiko Saito, Assistant Director for International Affairs. "We are confident, however, that the strong commitment from both the United States and China to better understand the impact of this trade will help to inform conservation decisions and priorities."

An IUCN Red Listing workshop, funded by the Service, was held in Beijing in August 2011. It brought together Asian snake experts from around the world and resulted in the species assessments that were just added to the Red List. The Service provided both technical expertise and funding for this effort.

Of the 384 snake species assessed by IUCN, 103 were categorized as "data deficient," meaning that there is not enough information available to determine the conservation status of the species. Research on snakes has long been under-funded and trade data are rarely maintained. Some reports indicate that wild populations are declining in China due to habitat destruction and harvest for trade. Still, the threats to wild populations and the implications of the trade are poorly understood. The IUCN assessments are a critical first step in identifying threats to Asian snakes and determining where conservation efforts will be most effective to ensure the long-term survival of the species.

In addition to the IUCN Red Listing workshop, the United States and China jointly proposed a technical workshop to consider the conservation priorities, management, and enforcement needs related to the trade of snakes in Asia at the 15th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP15) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), held in Doha, Qatar in March 2010. CITES is an international agreement initiated in 1973 and since then ratified by 175 countries (referred to as "Parties") to protect wild animals and plants against over-exploitation as a result of international trade.

The workshop proposal, the first-ever joint document submission to CITES from the United States and China, drew international attention to the Asian snake trade. The proposal was adopted by the Parties at CoP15, and a technical workshop, funded by the Service and hosted by China, was held in April 2011. The conservation and trade management recommendations of the workshop are currently under review and will be considered for adoption by the CITES Parties at CoP16 in March 2013.

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