The Importation of Reptiles into Canada

Throughout Canada, a wide variety of animals can be purchased as pets. In fact, many pet stores carry a remarkably wide range of species. But few people who visit pet stores or who purchase animals from other sources really think about where they came from. How did that large monitor lizard, chameleon or python in the glass aquarium really end up in the store?

While a small number of reptiles in the pet trade are bred in captivity here in Canada, the majority are imported from abroad. They may be caught in the wild and then exported directly to Canada, or exported first to another country and then re-exported from that country to Canada. Captive born rep-tiles are also imported.

Untracked and Unmonitored

Most of the live reptile trade in Canada is untracked and unmonitored. Records exist for only a fraction of the total number of reptiles entering Canada.

Imports involving reptile species listed on Appendix I or II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) require a permit from Canadian authorities before entering Canada, but non-CITES-listed species do not. Unfortunately, permits for many reptiles are not required.

Under the Health of Animals Regulations, all turtles and tortoises entering Canada require an import permit from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), primarily because of disease concerns. Other kinds of reptiles are not regulated, so no CFIA import permit or health certificate is required when they are brought into Canada and no inspection will normally be clone at the border.

Because it is not tracked, no one really knows exactly how many live reptiles are in the pet trade in Canada. However, a review of CITES import documents for the years 1995 -2000 clearly shows that the number of live reptiles entering Canada for the pet trade is substantial. And these numbers may be just the tip of proverbial iceberg.

 Numbers of Imported Reptiles

According to Canadian records 117,657 CITES-list­ed live reptiles were imported into Canada between 1995 and 2000. There are no statistics regarding the number of non-CITES-listed reptiles imported into Canada during that time period, but it may be substantially larger than the number of listed reptiles.

For example, according to a Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) review of US government documents, 21,574 Green anoles (Ano/is carolinensis), a popular lizard in the pet trade, were exported into Canada from the United States in 1997 alone. That number is 2,069 greater than the total number of all CITES-listed reptiles represented in Canadian records for that same year. Clearly, a substantial number of reptiles enter Canada each year.

The HSUS also reports that in 1993, the US exported 224,768 live reptiles (both CITES and non-CITES­listed species) to Canada; a much larger number than is represented in Canadian records. Canada’s CITES import records do not reflect the total num­ber of reptiles entering the country.

While evidence suggests the reptile pet trade as a whole has continued to experience growth, the number of CITES-listed live reptiles imported into Canada seems to have remained relatively constant averaging about 20,000 individuals per year. The growth in trade may be the result of increased cap­tive breeding within Canada and a greater number of imports of non-CITES-listed reptile species. The Green iguana (Iguana iguana) was the most common CITES-listed reptile imported into Canada during the 1995 -2000 time period. In total, 65,372 green iguanas were brought into the country. 11,274 individuals were imported in 1995 growing to a high of 13,893 in 1997 and then falling to 9,980 in 2000.

During that same period, 3669 Savannal1 monitor lizards (Varanus exanthematicus),945 Nile monitors (Varanus niloticus), 9166 ball pythons (Python regius) and 1780 boa constrictors (Boa constrictor) were also imported. The 10 most commonly import­ed CITES-listed species comprised 93,217 of the total number imported.

Lizards comprised the greatest number of CITES­listed reptile species imported into Canada, followed by snakes and then turtles, tortoises and crocodilians.

Quebec ranks first as the province with the greatest number of imported CITES-listed reptiles, while Ontario is second and British Colombia a distant third.

Major Sources of Wild Caught Reptiles

 Wild caught CITES-listed reptiles are shipped to Canada from countries around the world. Some of the more prolific suppliers are Indonesia with 9776 wild-caught animals exported to Canada between 1995 and 2000; Suriname with 8505, and Madagascar with 7794.

Even though only a fraction of the reptile trade is documented, we know that tens of thousands of reptiles enter Canada for the pet trade every year. Many of these animals have been collected from the wild and have been transported in poor conditions from around the world. Their removal from wild habitats disrupts ecosystems and threatens wild reptile populations. Captive-bred reptiles also suffer in transport. For these reasons, Zoocheck urges members of the public to refrain from purchasing reptiles as pets.