The Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats is binding international legal text that was adopted over thirty years ago to protect Europe’s wild plants and animals. In December 2015 the Convention had its 35th annual Standing Committee meeting at the Palace of Europe in Strasbourg, France. With Bsal already decimating wild European fire salamander populations in the Netherlands and its spread to the UK and Germany via the pet trade, the Convention’s Standing Committee has officially recommended best management practices and restrictions on trade. The Committee stresses the importance of implementation and enforcement in order to conserve amphibian biodiversity.

The recommendations include immediate salamander trade restrictions until risk assessments and prevention/mitigation protocols are developed; pre-import screening for infectious diseases in live animal trade; establishing monitoring and surveillance programs both where Bsal has been introduced and in high risk areas that are still Bsal-free; applying biosafety rules to field work, breeding sites, and captive collections; and developing emergency action plans.

Says Tom Langton, a conservation ecologist and expert consultant on amphibian and reptile conservation priorities to the Bern Convention in 2015: “A huge debt of gratitude must be paid to the Council of Europe and the Swiss government for their prompt intervention. The massive risks to biodiversity from the increasingly damaging international pet trade are long known. Costs will be cripplingly high and with no guaranteed outcome. One has to look to the failure of CITES and EU controls over 20 years in arriving at such inevitable crisis. The meagre economic benefits of the often damaging trade in wild animals are not sustainable. Europe needs a similar system to Australia, where wildlife management is more professional and credible.”

Other countries have yet to take action against the spread of this lethal wildlife pathogen. Despite the impending threat of Bsal being introduced to North America, where almost 50% of the world’s salamander species occur, no action has been taken to avert this crisis. Hopefully other governing agencies will see the importance of preventive action and join in on the international effort to mitigate the spread of infectious diseases in wildlife and conserve biodiversity.

Recommendations No. 176 (2015) of the Standing Committee, adopted on 4 December 2015, on the prevention and control of the Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans chytrid fungus

Click here for the UK Animal Protection Agency’s press release.