Legal or unenforceable? Violations of trade regulations and the case of the Philippine Sailfin Lizard Hydrosaurus pustulatus (Reptilia: Squamata: Agamidae)

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Sarah Heinrich
Adam Toomes
Jordi Janssen


The Philippine Sailfin Lizard (Agamidae: Hydrosaurus pustulatus) is a nationally protected Philippine endemic species.  It is threatened by habitat destruction, pollution and overexploitation for the domestic pet trade, yet less is known about the international component of the trade.  Here we investigate the international trade in Hydrosaurus spp. (H. weberi, H. amboinensis, and H. pustulatus) with an emphasis on H. pustulatus.  We analysed international seizures combined with international online sales and trade data for the United States of America (USA).  The export of H. pustulatus from the Philippines has been prohibited since 1991, except under special circumstances, yet they continue to be traded internationally, and we found evidence for trade in Asia, Europe, and North America.  Most of these animals, however, were declared to be captive-bred.  While imports to and exports from the US consisted mostly of other species of Hydrosaurus, H. pustulatus was by far the most coveted species online, with prices significantly higher for H. pustulatus than any of the other species.  While not many seizures have occurred outside the Philippines, even wild-caught individuals were found to be ‘legally’ imported to the USA – in apparent violation of the Lacey Act.   We recommend H. pustulatus to be listed in CITES Appendix III, in order for countries other than the USA to have a legal basis to seize wild-caught animals trafficked from the Philippines and to monitor trade in captive-bred specimens.  Further, we suggest the use of automated cross-referencing between imported species and the national protection status of the species’ native range states to ensure that legislation violations are detected at the point of import.

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Heinrich, S., Toomes, A. and Janssen, J. 2021. Legal or unenforceable? Violations of trade regulations and the case of the Philippine Sailfin Lizard Hydrosaurus pustulatus (Reptilia: Squamata: Agamidae). Journal of Threatened Taxa. 13, 6 (May 2021), 18532–18543. DOI:
Author Biography

Jordi Janssen, Monitor Conservation Research Society (Monitor), Big Lake Ranch, B.C., V0L 1G0, Canada.

Programme Officer at Monitor Conservation Research Society


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