Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Illegal online pet trade in venomous snakes and the occurrence of snakebites in Brazil.

Abstract

Greater access to the Internet has boosted the online pet trade and especially enabled the trade in niche-targeted groups, such as venomous species. Despite their fearsome reputation, an array of venomous animals, such as snakes, spiders and scorpions arise interest among pet hobbyists, which exposes owners, sellers, and others involved in their transport and maintenance to potentially serious accidents by envenomation. To assess the potential risk to human health posed by the trade and ownership of venomous pet snakes, we examined social media posts trading or portraying native and exotic venomous species as pets (Facebook™ and YouTube™) and official seizures in Brazil between 2015 and 2020. In addition, we recorded all venomous snakebite events occurring in the country during the same period from the Brazilian Ministry of Health database. We compiled 114,931 venomous snakebite events resulting in over 600 human deaths. Bothrops spp. and Crotalus spp. were responsible for 86% and 10% of these events. We recorded 241 individual venomous snakes kept as pets of at least 16 species (seven native and nine non-native). The taxa with higher numbers of snakebites were also those most often kept as pets. Venomous pet snakes were sold at low prices, US$ 71.70 ± 18.44 on average. Our findings highlight a dangerous market, given the similarity of taxa raised as pets and those causing snakebites, combined with low availability of anti-venom for exotic species in Brazil. Additionally, several of the venomous pet snakes recorded are invasive species in many countries. Trade in venomous snakes is prohibited in Brazil, but the law is not well-enforced. To curb this illegal market and discourage consumer demand, we suggest that tougher penalties for sellers and owners should be considered, along with the development of awareness campaigns on the consequences of the snakebite injuries and the lack of antivenoms.