Home and hub : pet trade and traditional medicine impact reptile populations in source locations and destinations

Pauline C. DUFOUR, Elliott F. MIOT, Tsz Chun SO, Shun Long TANG, Emily E. JONES, Tsz Ching KONG, Felix LANMDRY YUAN, Yik-hei SUNG, Caroline DINGLE, Timothy C. BONEBRAKE*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The pet trade and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) consumption are major drivers of global biodiversity loss. Tokay geckos (Gekko gecko) are among the most traded reptile species worldwide. In Hong Kong, pet and TCM markets sell tokay geckos while wild populations also persist. To clarify connections between trade sources and destinations, we compared genetics and stable isotopes of wild tokays in local and non-local populations to dried individuals from TCM markets across Hong Kong. We found that TCM tokays are likely not of local origin. Most wild tokays were related to individuals in South China, indicating a probable natural origin. However, two populations contained individuals more similar to distant populations, indicating pet trade origins. Our results highlight the complexity of wildlife trade impacts within trade hubs. Such trade dynamics complicate local legal regulation when endangered species are protected, but the same species might also be non-native and possibly damaging to the environment.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20221011
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1982
Early online date14 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

This project was funded by the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation (2020/21), awarded to T.C.B. P.C.D. was awarded a Hong Kong Postgraduate Fellowship by the Research Grant Council of Hong Kong (2017/2021).

We are also very grateful to fellow scientists and colleagues for their valuable advice on various aspects of the project: Mr Siu Kit Ho for sharing his knowledge on locations of tokay geckos, Ms. Tracey-Leigh Prigge for sharing her molecular knowledge and for providing one sample, Dr Jonathan Cybulski and Ms. Kit Sum Leung for their advice and contribution before and during the stable isotope analysis, and Dr Tommy Lam for his input on methods during our phylogenetic analyses. We would also like to thank the different pet owners that provided us with shed skins or facilitated the collection: K.W., F.S. and S.H. We are grateful for input from two anonymous reviewers.

We obtained ethical clearance from the Human Research Ethics (ref. EA210006) for our interviews and from the Department of Health for manipulating wildlife (ref. 20-711 and 20-712). Permits to conduct our field study were granted by the Committee on the Use of Live Animals in Teaching and Research (ref. 5430-20) and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department ((115) AF GRCON 11/17 Pt.6).


  • exotic species
  • genetic pollution
  • pets
  • tokay gecko
  • traditional medicine
  • wildlife trade


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