Crocodile Newt (Tylototriton shanjing)
Crocodile Newt (Tylototriton shanjing), Yunnan Province, China. Image: Jodi Rowley
© Jodi Rowley

While most people are aware that the global trade in wildlife threatens elephants, rhinos and tigers, the trade in smaller wildlife, such as frogs and other amphibians, goes largely unnoticed. We investigated the trade in Southeast Asian newts, a group of amphibians that are threatened in the wild and in high demand as pets. We found large numbers of Southeast Asian newts being harvested from the wild and sold as pets around the world, but official records show only a fraction of this. We recommend that all Southeast Asian newts be listed on CITES so that trade can be better monitored, thus helping to safeguard wild populations of these vulnerable species.

Amphibians are the most threatened group of animals on the planet, and they are traded in large numbers globally for use as food, pets and traditional medicine. While many frog species may be suffering from over-collection for use as food, the demand for amphibians as pets is also a concern for rare or particularly attractive species.

One group of amphibians in high demand as pets are newts, and Southeast Asian newts are among the most highly sought after. Many are also only known from small areas and are likely to be under great threat in the wild. The Lao Newt (Laotriton laoensis) is now considered globally Endangered, primarily as a result of collection for the pet trade.

To better understand the nature and scale of the Southeast Asian newt trade, we examined available import records, internet trade, and local shops. We found thousands of newts from this region were recorded as being imported into Europe and the US over the last decade, most of which were recorded as wild-caught. We also found these newts advertised for sale on the internet throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas, often for high prices. The local trade in Southeast Asian newts appeared much smaller in scale.

Because the trade in Southeast Asian newts is almost all unregulated and unrecorded, we were only able to gain a glimpse of it. Local reports indicate that the scale of harvest of Southeast Asian newts is far greater than the limited number of trade statistics suggest. For example, local residents in Laos report selling hundreds of Lao Newts to visiting collectors. Internet advertisements also revealed newts for sale that didn’t show up in official records.

The lack of data on the nature and scale of the trade in Southeast Asian newts is largely because it's not a requirement of import that every country records all the wildlife that is imported. So many don't- making it impossible to monitor and accurately assess the threat of the trade.

Given that the international trade is likely a major threat, we recommend that all Southeast Asian newts be listed in CITES so that their trade can be monitored, and the data can be used to inform conservation decisions and safeguard these species from over-harvesting. Without this measure, we may push some of these amazing amphibians further along the path towards extinction.

Dr Jodi Rowley & Timothy Cutajar.

Australian Museum Research Institute

More information:

Rowley, J. J. L., Shepherd, C.R., Stuart, B.L., Nguyen, T.Q., Hoang, H.D., Cutajar, T.P., Wogan, G.O.U., Phimmachak, S. (2016). Estimating the global trade in Southeast Asian Newts. Biological Conservation. 199:96-100.