Recently while trolling the internet looking for Anolis grahami to purchase for a research project, I came upon a website offering “wild collected” A. occultus, the Puerto Rican twig anole, and Cuban “false chameleons,” the anoles in the Chamaeleolis clade. Having worked very hard to get collecting and export permits from the Puerto Rican and Cuban officials, I am extremely dubious that such animals could be legally captured and exported for commercial purposes . Although in some cases commercial export permits can be easier to obtain than research permits, I strongly doubt that this is the case in Puerto Rico and Cuba.
I mentioned this to a friend, who pointed me to another website that had a host of difficult-to-obtain anoles for sale, including the Cuban Crown-Giant anole, A. smallwoodi. All the lizards on this website were captive bred. Almost surely, their ancestors were illegally exported from their countries of origin, but apparently the offspring of such animals can be legally bought and sold, which would seem to be a big loophole in wildlife laws. On the other hand, because Australia does not allow export of reptiles for commercial purposes, all of the bearded dragons in the pet trade would be illegal if this were the case.
In any case, I am bemused, delighted, and concerned by this trade in illicit anoles and their apparently licit offspring. Bemused because we jump through lots of hoops to get the necessary permits, whereas others apparently take a different tack. Delighted because apparently there is a big group of anole lovers out there, keeping and breeding these wonderful animals. And, finally, concerned, both because there’s always the threat that too much collecting could jeopardize rare anole species (although I know of no such cases, it’s certainly possible for some rare species), but also because such illegal trade can cause wildlife officials to clamp down on all exporting of lizards, even for valid scientific research. I experienced this myself years ago, when wildlife officials on St. Lucia were very cold and unfriendly and gave us great difficulty. We learned later that a year before, collectors masquerading as scientists, with faked credentials, had gotten permits to export 20 boas, only to sell them. Somehow, the St. Lucians found out, and we paid the consequence.