Contributions to Zoology, 86 (1) – 2017Vincent Nijman; Daniel Bergin: Reptiles traded in markets for medicinal purposes in contemporary Morocco

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Legality and regulation of trade

The spur-thighed tortoise and the three species of lizard we observed in trade are included on the list of protected species, precluding all trade in them, and all four plus the two identified species of snake are considered threatened at the national level (Franchimont and Saadaoui, 2001). Morocco is one of four African countries that have acceded to the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention). The Convention regulates species conservation by imposing restrictions on taking species from the wild and on exploitation. It furthermore constitutes a commitment to protect the habitat of species. The spur-thighed tortoise and the Mediterranean chameleon are included on Appendix II: Strictly Protected Fauna Species, and these may not be disturbed, captured, killed, or traded. Bell’s Dabb lizard and desert monitor lizard are included on Appendix III: Protected Fauna Species, and these species may only be hunted or otherwise exploited in exceptional instances.

In January 2011, Law No. 29-05 on the Protection of Species of Wild Flora and Fauna and their Trade was promulgated and adopted at national level (Bergin and Nijman, 2016), and can now be implemented. Included with this law is a list of protected species for which the importation, capture, sale, offer for sale, or killing is illegal without a specific license. Lawbreakers can be fined up to US$11,000 for illegal trade in selected species. Falsifying or misusing permits can lead to fines of up to US$5,500. However, our interpretation of the current law is that government inspectors are not allowed to enter shops to check for the presence of protected wildlife or wildlife products without permission from the owners (Martin and Perry-Martin, 2012). Martin and Perry-Martin (2012) further noted that current laws do permit government authorities to inspect and confiscate illegal wildlife cargo at the international land borders, airports and seaports, thus confirming the existence of an Airport Bias with the authorities failing to detect the majority of illicit trade (Phelps et al., 2010).

Morocco ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1976. Unfortunately, hitherto the implementing legislation does not meet all of the requirements of the Convention. Once Law No. 29-05 is signed and properly implemented, it is expected that Morocco’s legislation will meet the requirements. Almost all reptile species observed in trade are included on CITES Appendix II. A species is included on this appendix if there is a high likelihood that if trade is not closely controlled it may become threatened with extinction. Following the Convention, international trade in specimens of Appendix-II species may be authorized by the granting of an export permit or re-export certificate. Permits or certificates should only be granted if the relevant authorities (in Morocco Le Haut Commissaire aux Eaux et Forêts et à la Lutte Contre la Désertification, known as Eaux et Forêts) are satisfied that certain conditions are met, above all that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild. It is encouraging that we did not observe any reptiles for medicinal purposes for sale in the Spanish cities of Ceuta or Melilla nor in the Moroccan cities of Fnideq or Beni Nsar, bordering Ceuta and Melilla, suggesting that the flow of wildlife from Morocco to Europe via this route is either not open or at least is small.

Morocco is not unique in its struggle against the illegal wildlife trade, and reptiles are traded the world over with and without permits. In a recent review, drawing on examples from the global trade in reptiles for the pet market, Auliya et al. (2016) concluded that “There are limited resources in many regions that result in under-staffed national authorities. This in turn provides the conditions necessary to circumvent national and international regulations. Better implementation of current regulations, including a checks and balances approach as well as strengthening of enforcement is necessary” thus clearly echoing our experiences in Morocco. In the foreseeable future it can be expected that reptiles will continue to be traded in many of the market towns included in our survey. In light of recent developments in terms of improved legislation and given the commitment Morocco has expressed through international treaties (CITES, Bern Convention) there is some hope for optimism with respect to curbing the illegal trade in protected and globally threatened reptiles. However, these regulations will not be effective without increased enforcement and, crucially, enforcement actions that extend to all levels of the judiciary from local police officers to judges in the highest courts.