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The pet trade's role in defaunation

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Science  02 Jun 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6341, pp. 916
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan5158

The pet trade has put the Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus) at risk.

PHOTO: ALBERT DAMANIK/BARCROFT IMAGES/BARCROFT MEDIA VIA GETTY IMAGES

In their Report “The impact of hunting on tropical mammal and bird populations” (14 April, p. 180), A. Benítez-López and colleagues quantify the global impact of hunting on defaunation. However, hunting is only one side of the defaunation crisis. Nonlethal take, particularly wild capture for the pet trade, is a frequently overlooked component of defaunation; its victims end up in living rooms, not stomachs. For birds, primates, tropical fish, amphibians, and reptiles in certain areas, such as Asia, Latin America, and Madagascar, capture for the pet trade may result in depletion of a much wider swath of species than hunting (13). One recent study (3) found that the pet trade in Indonesia was a major driver of declines in the local bird community, independent of the effect of hunting for consumption. In some cases, species such as the Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus) and Spix's macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) have been pushed to the brink of extinction due to the pet trade (4).

It is not surprising that many studies of defaunation exclude nonlethal take from their analyses. The pet trade in wild animals is ubiquitous, notoriously difficult to monitor, and therefore understudied (3). Benítez-López and colleagues quantify sobering worldwide impacts from hunting. If they included nonlethal consumption as well, these numbers would almost certainly be even more grim, and they would encompass a much wider range of species. Unless we study the collective impacts of defaunation, we will not know what we are losing until it's gone.

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