Concerns about Illegal trade in Saban Black Iguanas confirmed

In the scientific community there are increasing concerns about an illegal international trade in among others the rare black Saba Iguana. Thanks to genetic research, the origin of the black iguanas sold trade has now been confirmed.

The presence of international animal dealers who are offering (partially) black iguanas for sale on the internet was already noted some years ago. So far there was no confirmation of the genetic origins of the iguanas offered for sale. 

Since the specific ’type’ of iguana only occurs in a few Caribbean areas, various experts have conducted research into the origin of these traded animals. In 2020, analysis of the CITES-permit database, as well as interviews with selling parties revealed that the iguana population of Saba is their origin, with the animals being traded illegally via St. Maarten.

The CITES authorities of Saba have never granted a CITES-export license for live iguanas, while certain dealers have revealed how they acquired the animals. It is clear from interviews, and one granted CITES-export permit, that in one case the dealer himself went to collect the animals on St. Maarten. This case was presented in a major Dutch newspaper article from 2020. However, notwithstanding the presented evidence, genetic data was still lacking that could conclusively prove the Saban origin of the traded iguanas.

Genetic materials examined

Since 2020, the genetic material of two black iguanas from the US pet trade have been examined; the dealer indicated the purported Saban descent of these animals during the 2020 study. Analyses of these samples now confirm beyond any doubt that the traded iguanas are indeed of pure Saban descent. That proves that they were either themselves taken from Saba, or that they are descendants of animals from purely Saba origin. 

Scientifically proven

The presence of Saban iguanas in the international pet trade is now scientifically proven and shows the need for urgent improvements to the permit application procedures and controls regarding licensing for iguana exports. Recently, iguana experts of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have proposed a temporary trade halt for iguanas both from and between Lesser Antillean islands until such time as when measures have been implemented to effectively counter illegal trade.

Iguanas are, among pet animals, one of the most kept reptile species. The trade in iguanas of the species Iguana Iguana is extensive and, like many other species, is regulated worldwide by the CITES convention. This means that the export and import of iguanas requires permits that are checked by authorities. 

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