The “livestock” in this case are not cows or chickens, but rare snakes, turtles, crocodiles, monkeys, and other threatened wildlife species. In Southeast Asia’s commercial wildlife farms, the animals are bred and raised in captivity for the purpose of producing meat and wildlife products. But rather than alleviating the pressure on wild populations, they make the problem worse.

According to a recent joint study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Vietnam’s Forest Protection Department, commercial wildlife farms deplete wildlife populations and contribute to illegal trade. Of the 78 farms surveyed in Vietnam, 42 percent were regularly bringing in animals from the wild. Half reported that their founder populations were taken from the wild or produced from a combination of wild animals and farm stock. Researchers also found links between several farms and the illegal wildlife trade, with farm owners admitting they transported wildlife to the Chinese border for export into Chinese markets. The investigation also uncovered that some farm owners illegally purchased farm stock from commercial hunters, and transported and imported wildlife and wildlife products without a license.

“Instead of enhancing conservation, commercial wildlife farms actually threaten wild populations,” said Dr. Elizabeth L. Bennett, director of WCS’s Hunting and Wildlife Trade program. “From the report’s analysis it appears the negative impacts of wildlife farms on wild populations vastly outweigh any advantages.”

Even farms raising fast-growing species with high reproductive rates negatively impact conservation efforts through the continued importation of wild animals, according to the study. And 20 percent of wildlife farm owners interviewed reported escapes of dangerous animals (such as crocodiles, cobras, and pythons), hybridized animals (including soft-shelled turtles), and animals outside of their natural range.

With respect to the needs of local communities, the study concluded that commercial wildlife farms do not reduce the reliance of rural communities on wild animal populations for protein or contribute to food security. Instead, they primarily supply luxury items to urban consumers.

The study focused on wildlife farms located in 12 provinces in northern, central, and southern Vietnam. Farm owners were interviewed by study authors, who documented 22 farmed species. The species group included six that are globally threatened and five that are protected from international commercial trade by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

In light of the study’s findings, the report’s authors recommend prohibiting farms from holding both nationally protected and globally threatened species, penalizing farm owners who violate wildlife protection laws, and requiring farm owners to document the source of the animals they keep.