Abronia Hobby | Trade, Regulation, and Caution

Authored by Dillon Damuth Guest Author of Reptile Apartment

Abronia | Trade, Regulation, and Caution

Species of the genus Abronia, (A. graminea), are climbing in popularity in the pet trade quite quickly, it’s understandable, given their remarkable appearance. Not long ago, prior to the establishment of successful captive breeding colonies, many of the animals in trade were harvested from the wild. With wild collection, comes native ailments, with a good percentage of incoming animals highly stressed from their journeys, and some harboring microbial infections of the parasitic or fungal variety. This is not to say animals are not being collected from their wild populations today, as it does still occur. Given that 14 of the 29 described species in the genus are listed as threatened, endangered, or critically endangered by IUCN(21 species if we include those who are currently classified as data deficient), wild collection poses a problem.

However, individuals being harvested from wild populations is a fraction of the issues these species face. The habitat ranges of most species within the genus are very small and quite specific, and are threatened with habitat destruction (and consequently, fragmentation; ARIANO-SÁNCHEZ, D. et al. (2011).) Habitat fragmentation can be especially disastrous in populations already limited by size. Aside from specimens being potentially harmed during the process of habitat clearing, this can result in portions of the population being physically isolated. In turn, this exerts evolutionary pressures on the population, and especially on the isolated population(s), by reducing gene flow. Simply put, the genetic diversity contained in the isolated population would be left unlikely to contribute to the overall population of the species. Likewise, the broader genetic diversity of the main population then becomes less likely to contribute the isolated population.

The local people also pose a threat, aside for dangers instilled via agricultural or economic growth, given that locals believe some species to be bad luck and dangerous, and often will kill them if spotted. All factors considered, we can see the threats these populations face are not negligible. Much like many other reptiles, Abronia are not for everyone. They are not a species for a beginning keeper to aim to obtain, as they require a specific set of husbandry skills and attention to detail. They also should not yet be pursued as a display pet. These are points I cannot stress enough. The only species ‘abundant’ enough at this time to justify these types of sales is (A. graminea). Aside from this species, we need to be mindful of whose hands the animals end up in to help ensure the success of the animals themselves, in rooting captive breeding populations so they can be more widely enjoyed in the future. At this point in time, with the limited genetic diversity in captivity, the current focus should be on maintaining as much diversity as possible, for as long as possible. Yes, this means people should be collaborating, opening discussion, swapping bloodlines, etc. as much as possible. Additionally, it means sellers should be somewhat restricting sales to fellow hobbyists willing to be dedicated to the same purpose. Largely, this already does occur between many involved in the keeping of the genus, which is wonderful to see.

So what is the issue with Abronia becoming popular in the hobby if some of these efforts are already being taken? There is not necessarily an ‘issue’ with it, per se. However, as those who are heavily invested in their freedoms of animal ownership (especially reptile ownership) can imagine, this puts another unneeded spotlight on the hobby at a time where we are already fighting for our freedoms to keep the animals which we choose. With the status of native populations and the restrictions being put in place, various groups are attempting to portray the reptile community in a negative light. This attention leads to articles being pushed out by groups led, or otherwise influenced by, Animal Rights organizations in an attempt to demonize the hobby, because people choose to seek such species in attempt to adequately house and reproduce them.

Animal Rights & Herpetoculture Business

One aspect these groups often overlook, or choose to remain ignorant to, is what happens when captive bred populations start flourishing- prices of captive bred animals drop. While this may seem insignificant, it shifts the balance of supply and demand. When supply of captive bred individuals is greater than the influx of wild caught animals, allowing the hobby to largely dictate what occurs next. If hobbyists choose to maintain high pricing, putative buyers will remain in search of cheaper [often] wild caught animals.

Conversely, if hobbyists lower prices, putative buyers will buy captive bred, lowering the demand for wild caught animals. This is a trend we already see occurring and holding true with the most popular species of Abronia in captivity- (Abronia graminea). Prices of (A. graminea) were ~$600 each not all that long ago, sometimes more, depending on the source. Now buyers can often find pairs of animals for the same price, often cheaper. Admittedly, this price shift for (A. graminea)“> was also in part due to a presumed heavy influx of wild caught animals smuggled out of Mexico being sold off as captive bred (especially females being brought while gestating, and the offspring sold off as captive bred.)

How does this information directly tie into the pet trade if we now have successful captive breeding colonies? Why should you care? The two topics tie together due recent changes in the regulation of their trade. Mexico and Guatemala successfully proposed, in two separate documents (Guatemalan ProposalMexican ProposalCITES CoP17 Decisions), for species of the genus to be added onto the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) treaty. Guatemala proposed to have several species whose ranges extend to within their borders listed as appendix I (A. anzuetoi, A. campbelli, A. fimbriata, A. frosti, and A. meledona) and others listed as appendix II (A.aurita, A. gaiophantasma, A. montecristoi, A. salvadorensis and A. vasconcelosii.) Mexico proposed that the genus Abronia be listed as appendix II as a whole, with zero export quota from native countries, as well as zero export quota from non-native countries. The meeting at which these decisions were considered took place from September 25th October 5th, where both of these proposals were accepted with amendments. Guatemala’s proposal being amended to include (A. anzuetoi, A. campbelli, A. fimbriata, A. frosti, and A. meledona)as appendix I, but removing the remainder of the species. Mexico’s proposal was amended to remove the zero export quota from non-native countries.

For the hobby, this means tighter regulations on the trade and sale of Abronia, where breeders and sellers will need to keep more detailed records for their breeding ventures, as we will have more watchful eyes surveying the classifieds posts involving these species. That doesn’t mean, however, there will be an end to such species in trade. Take the genus Uroplatus for example, where the genus is listed as CITES appendix II, yet animals of the genus may be freely sold within U.S. borders, and efficiently be imported/exported to the states, and elsewhere with proper permits. With the acceptance of Mexico’s proposal, import of Abronia from native lands will be ablated, but import from other countries will be allowed, with proper permits. This serves to protect the native populations from collection, while allowing their captive propagation to persist in a collaborative manner, meaning gene flow can persist between colonies, even if it means exchanging bloodlines across national borders with permits.

ARIANO-SÁNCHEZ, D. et al. (2011) Rediscovery of Abronia frosti (Sauria: Anguidae) from a Cloud Forest in Cuchumatanes Highlands in Northwestern Guatemala: Habitat Characterization and Conservation Status. Herpetological Review 42(2)