On Wednesday 29 January 2014 hundreds of animals were found dead at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport. They were part of a shipment of over 1600 reptiles and amphibians from Madagascar.
The boxes arrived on Tuesday morning and were scheduled to connect on a flight that evening. The flight was delayed indefinitely due to bad weather and attempts to put them in another flight failed.
The animals were found after an inspector from the National Society for the Prevent of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) noticed “a bad smell” during a routine cargo inspection and found that some of the animals in the boxes had begun decomposing and some were barely alive.
The animals had been without water and food for at least five days, reports say.
They are believed to have been destined for the exotic pet market in the US.
The animals, which included at least 30 different species of frogs, chameleons, lizards and toads and geckos, had been placed in two crates about half a metre in size – one on top of the other. The chameleons were tied in small muslin bags, while the other reptiles and amphibians were crammed into small plastic tubs. Some of the animals were so tightly packed together that they were unable to move or turn around, local media report.
The animals have yet to be classified, but it has been established that some were listed as protected under CITES, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and fora.
The NSPCA and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries are further investigating the matter. “The authorities suspect that there are South African agents involved [who work as middle men] and once investigations are finalised they would be charged with animal cruelty,” said Ainsley Hay, head of the NSPCA’s Wildlife Unit.
The department will be contacting authorities from Madagascar to discuss what should be done with the animals, until then they will be treated in some zoos locally.
Madagascar, the fourth largest island on the planet, is deemed one of the world’s biological hotspots. The island is also a well known source for illegal wildlife and timber trade.
Sadly, this case represents only a tiny fraction of the massive amounts of live birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and mammals that are shipped across the world every day to feed the demand for exotic pets. Countless incidents such as this one have brought to light the fact that many animals die during transport. Many are taken from the wild, legally and/or illegally. In the case of illegal trade there is a risk of contagious diseases spreading to wild populations as well as humans. The (illegal) exotic pet trade has already pushed many species to or over the brink of extinction and continues to do so. Apart from issues of legality, sustainability and public health, a case such as this once again raises the ethical question whether we really need to keep exotic animals as pets.