Dendrobates tinctorius "Tumucumaque"/"Peacock"

Socratic Monologue

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Jan 15, 2014
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Oxford, WI
There continue to be sales of Dendrobates tinctorius "Tumucumaque" that are frequently accompanied by claims that they were legally imported into the US. So far to my knowledge, no one who has claimed that these frogs were legally imported into the US has been able to back that claim up with documentation.

All captive specimens of the morph were relatively recently smuggled out of nationally protected areas in Brazil or descended from those trafficked animals. Note that some websites (the largest in the general herp classified category, and the largest Dendrobatid forum) do not allow sales of this or some other animals that are 100% certain to be descended from trafficked stock.

Here's a nice write up on the morph by a Dart Den staff member that explains the issues and timeline of how this trafficked morph came to be in the US hobby. Its purpose is to give information "so you are better informed before making a purchase", a goal that is sadly not as common with sellers as one might hope:
I don't care to get into the back and forth of the current legal standing of this locale in US herpetoculture, but wanted to comment on this statement from the cited website: "If a given zoo receives illegally imported and/or confiscated CITES-listed specimens, then offspring from those specimens would not be legal to distribute within that country and could not be legally exported to other countries."

There is a precedent that's been set in enforcement of CITES and the Lacey Act that refutes the above statement from within the orchid hobby. Paphiopedilum species within Section Parvisepalum occur primarily in Vietnam and China, often along the border of these countries. For years, there was speculation that the Chinese "populations" were actually plants that were transplanted from Vietnam, which does not allow exports, to China, which does/did.

Upon discovery of two Vietnamese species, Paph. vietnamense and Paph. hangianum, there was a huge demand from growers because they were large-flowered and "new". Imports of these plants came into the U.S. and led to subsequent confiscation(all Paphs. are CITES I, which should have restricted import unless they were imported as sterile flasks). These confiscated plants were given to select nurseries deemed "rescue centers", and all progeny, hybrid or species, from plants that slipped through the cracks and did not get confiscated were considered illegal. Enforcement was so strong that the American Orchid Society even banned them from being shown and awarded for plant/flower quality.

However, the rescue centers were allowed to propagate these plants in vitro and progeny from these (with paperwork) were considered perfectly legal and were allowed to be sold freely and shown at AOS events, creating a monopoly for these rescue centers even though the species is CITES I and Vietnam has never allowed export. Fast forward to today and these species are relatively available in the U.S. market as both pure species and as parents of hybrids, and there is little to no concern of legality because the rescue centers were allowed to "wash" the original imports. Similar stories also exist for species such as Phrag. kovachii out of Peru.

So, with all that said, if the stories of a confiscation event and specimens given to an institution, which later released them back into the hobby are true, the above examples set a precedent for the offsprings' legality.
One basic and important difference in the two cases is that a zoo is not the same as a USFWS Plant Rescue Center. The latter are part of an official and fairly high profile USFWS program.

Just to clarify (not to you, Spaff, but generally), the statement

"If a given zoo receives illegally imported and/or confiscated CITES-listed specimens, then offspring from those specimens would not be legal to distribute within that country and could not be legally exported to other countries."

is claimed by a trustworthy source to come directly from USFWS. I read it as a statement of policy, but not as one that was subject to no exceptions whatsoever.

As I understand the P. vietnamense case, an official exception was made for that species by USFWS. According to the US Botanic Garden,

"In an effort to cool the demand for wild-collected specimens from decimated native populations of Paphiopedilum vietnamense, the U.S. Botanic Garden has collaborated with a commercial orchid grower and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to bring this orchid into legal cultivation."

As for P. kovachii, Peru routinely issues CITES export permits since 2009. That species was described in 2002, and in 2004 Kovach and Selby were found guilty of trafficking it.

In 2007, the AOS published this:

"There is a reason we made the hybrids we did — the five plants collected that day of our adventure are still considered the property of the Peruvian government. The plants are not allowed to be sold or to leave Peru, including artificially propagated divisions. All of the breeding must be approved by the Peruvian government and the only hybrids we could make were created with plants presently growing in Peru from Manrique’s personal collection of phragmipediums, so we were limited to what was available. It was also illegal to take pollen out of the country, because it would require CITES permits, which the government would not approve."

That strongly implies that as of 2007 no legal specimens existed outside of Peru, and in 2009 legal ones became available. It looks like there's not really room in the timeline for a permitted USFWS release of confiscated plants.

Since Tom Mirenda takes as his example the vietnamense case in a 2007 paper (well worth a read for the overlap with herp concerns) but says nothing about kovachii, I presume not only that the latter species isn't relevant to this discussion and that the former is an exceptional case. I don't know that I'd call such a distinct and isolated case a 'precedent'.