Understanding reptile trade is crucial for governments to make decisions about species that can be kept as pets and those that absolutely cannot. Timm Jensen is doing his best to understand reptile trade in Africa and help the Danish government do its part in the decision-making process.
What is your current job and what are some of the tasks associated with the role?
I work at the Danish Environmental Protection Agency as a biologist. The Agency is a governmental institution focusing on conservation and environmental issues in Denmark. I am employed in the CITES division of the agency.
Some of my daily tasks involves the administration of CITES in Denmark. For those of you who are not familiar with CITES, it is an international convention focused on regulating trade in protected animals. This is done by issuing certificates based on sustainable quotas. My daily task involves making sure that the trade in animals traded in and out of Denmark is sustainable.
How did you become interested in reptiles?
I come from a country where snake/reptile encounters are very uncommon. Denmark is near the Arctic Circle, so we only have garter snakes, common adders and two species of lizards. Strangely that did not keep me from becoming interested in these fascinating creatures. My first memories involving reptiles comes from when I was around 10-11 years old, when my best friend and I would go to a hill, close to my grandparent’s home. There was a very healthy population of Lacerta agilis that occurred there. My friend and I would spend all day trying to sneak up to these lizards, trying to catch them before they would disappear into their burrows. The best days would be when we would catch a large green male. After we caught them, we would always study them and release them. When I was around 12 years old, my dad brought me to the city to buy a coffee machine; it is worth mentioning that my dad shares my fascination with animal. We both loved going to pet shops to watch all of the exotic animals and on that day, instead of going home with a new coffee machine, we brought home a plated lizard! That was really my first experience with the pet trade, something that I ended up making a career out of. I studied my bachelors’ degree in biology at Copenhagen University and my masters in Herpetology/conservation biology at Vrije Universiteit Brussels/ Aalborg University.
What has your experience been like working within the trade industry?
My experience is extensive and based on several aspects of the trade industry. I started out as a zoo keeper specialising in pets and later became involved as a researcher/biologist researching the extent and implications of the pet trade. My experiences have taught me that there is an increase in the exploitation of wild caught animals being traded for pets. Some pet keepers are very concerned with having rare and special animals, especially reptiles, and they are often not very concerned with what the implications of acquiring these pets are.
What do you hope to achieve with your work?
I hope that by studying the exploitation of primarily African snakes, I can supply policy makers with the necessary knowledge to regulate the trade in threatened and endangered species. This way I can do my part to protect threatened species. I also hope to help find alternatives to the wild harvesting of snakes in West African countries where reptiles are harvested in significantly large quantities for meat.
How can Save The Snakes help you in your efforts?
I’d like to think that we can help each other. Right now, I am working with Save The Snakes to produce the first snake bite guide for West Africa. With this guide we can help farmers in West Africa to avoid getting bitten by venomous snakes and take necessary precautions by knowing the species of snakes that live around them.
If you could give one message to the world about snakes and snake conservation, what would it be?
It would be that – snakes are as much part of ecosystems as guinea pigs, rabbits, dolphins and pandas. If you remove them, it will have a much bigger impact and most likely a bad one.