Assessor: Krystal Tolley
This species is known to be collected from the wild for the pet trade, and much of the collection is illegal (Parusnath et al. 2017). Furthermore, information from the CapeNature Biodiversity Crime Unit (A. Turner Pers. comm. 2018) shows that illegal trade is substantial in numbers and can be on the order of a hundred individuals per collector in a short time span (e.g. a year). Population numbers are declining and the species is listed on the IUCN as Vulnerable due to habitat loss and over-collection (Mouton 2017, Alexander et al. In press). The species is also present in a number of traditional medicine markets, which may have a substantial effect on wild populations (Parusnath et al. 2017, Zondi & Khuzwayo 2017). It is listed on the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) list under the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (Act 10 of 2004), whereby no removal from the wild is permitted without a TOPS permit. This suggests that collections for traditional medicine and pet trade are not legal under TOPS. Regardless, it appears that traditional healers aim to use this species sustainably, limiting their removals from the wild (Zondi & Khuzwayo 2017). Although the market could be sustainable on a very local scale (i.e. individual healers), the overall effect on the species could be large assuming a large number of healers utilise this species. Lack of a database on TOPS collections hampers providing quantitative information for this assessment.
Alexander GJ, Tolley KA, Bates MF, Mouton PLFN. In press. Smaug giganteus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018.
While the overall population size estimate is reasonably large at more than 600,000 individuals, the species has decreased by about 48% in the last decades (Parusnath et al. 2017). In addition, there appear to be local extinctions across the range, suggesting the recolonisation potential is low (Parusnath et al. 2017).
Adult individuals are removed from the wild, whereby entire aggregations are removed causing extirpation of local populations.(Parusnath et al. 2017).
The population growth rate is not known, but given that this species is large-bodied and viviparious, the growth rate is unlikely to be high. In addition, the species is a habitat specialist and although the distribution is rather large (ca. 17,000 km2), it is patchy across the landscape. Furthermore, it occupies burrows, which are found in loosely distributed aggregations. A collector could feasibly harvest all individuals within a local subpopulation (i.e. colony). The high frequency of empty burrows (Parusnath et al. 2017) suggests that recolonisation potential is low, should a colony be over-collected.