Czechs among world’s main exporters of exotic animals, partly as a legacy of communism

Czechs are among the world’s major exporters of endangered and exotic animals and their share on the world market is growing, according to recent data released by the Ministry for the Envirnoment. The year 2020 saw 55,000 animal species registered within the CITES convention exported from the country, more than ever before. The number of intercepted illegal trades also grew.  

Prague was recently ranked as one of the most dog friendly cities in the world, but data from the Ministry for the Environment and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), shows that Czechs are also fond of keeping (and breeding) more exotic species.

The practice has its origins in communist times, says Pavla Říhová from the Institute for Environmental Studies at Charles University‘s Faculty of Science.

”Breeding animals is generally quite a popular hoppy here in the Czech Republic. It is probably a bit connected with our history, because during communism, when people were not able to travel very much, more and more started practicing hobbies like breeding animals, gardening and beekeeping.

Pavla Říhová | Photo: Charles University

“Since then, we have had many breeders who focus on various exotic animals including parrots and various reptiles. And of course we export these animals a lot, because the domestic market, simply due to the high production, has been oversaturated.”

Currently, there are around 50,000 breeders and traders in the Czech Republic according to the CITES database, but Pavla Říhová says that the real number is likely to be much higher.

“The sheer amount of such animal breeders in the Czech Republic stands out when compared with other EU states. For example, in Hungary there are just around 3,000, while in Portugal the number of breeders ranges in the hundreds.”

Birds make up most of the exported animal species from the Czech Republic, especially parrots like the Eastern rosella, the Rose-ringed Parakeet and Fischer’s lovebird. These are usually exported to Middle Eastern countries such as the United Arab Emirates or Israel, but sometimes also Pakistan. Reptiles on the other hand tend to end up in the United States or Japan, depending on the specific type of species.

The number of exported animals that are registered within the CITES database has tripled since 2010 and the Czech Republic currently ranks fourth in the world when it comes to exporting exotic birds, right behind South Africa, Cuba and the Philippines – countries that actually house many such species within their own natural habitats.

Last year also saw the number of registered illegal exotic bird trades rise. Border inspectors confiscated 84 of these animals in 2020, 58 of which were already dead when discovered. In previous years, such confiscations only ranged in the single digits.

However, Pavla Říhová does not believe that the sudden rise in the number of detected illegal exports necessarily means that the black market trade itself is growing.

Photo: Foto-Rabe,  Pixabay,  CC0 1.0 DEED

“It can take years to uncover serious cases of illegal animal trading. On the other hand, you also have many cases where the seller or the delivery person just forgets a relevant document and the trade is classified as illegal due to an administrative mistake.

“A higher number of detected cases may not necessarily mean that the illegal trade is rising. It could just mean that the authorities have diverted more resources to uncovering these crimes.”

Nevertheless, she does warn that breeding and trading such animals carries serious risks both for humans and the animals themselves.

“First of all, these species are disappearing from their natural habitats and many are threatened by extinction. This is perhaps the most obvious problem. However, animal trading also brings a health risk. Parrots have several diseases that can be passed onto humans; bird flu is the obvious example, aspergillosis another. These animals can also transfer diseases onto the animals that are natural to our own habitats. There have been cases of dangerous moulds being transferred onto amphibians.

“Then there are more indirectly associated problems. Organised crime can get involved or you can get cases of venomous animals escaping and posing a risk to the public. We have a huge number of venomous snakes being kept in the Czech Republic. For example, you could be living in a house and be unaware of the fact that your neighbour’s flat contains a lot of cobras.”