Crime & Cruelty in the Python Skin Trade


Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) is strongly opposed to the exploitation of wildlife for the exotic skins trade, mainly for the luxury fashion industry. The trade in exotic animal skins, and those of reptiles in particular, victimizes thousands of animals to fulfil the demands of luxury fashion houses.

The recent decision by Malaysia’s Natural and Environment Ministry, to expand the python skin trade into the European market once the ban imposed by the European Union (EU) is lifted, shows that monetary gains override all other concerns. It is a depressing facet of human nature that short term monetary gain is treated as a substitute for common sense and long term planning.

The python trade raises concerns involving wildlife conservation, sustainability, illegality, the trade chain and animal welfare issues, amongst others. Much in demand for its unique irregular pattern of spots and stripes, the python’s skin shows that it is often the very thing that makes a species most valuable to people which in time leads to its unbridled use and eventual extinction.

Are snake farms the solution in tackling the black market for python skin and conserving the species – while at the same time stocking fashion houses with the luxury diamond-patterned leather? With python skin accessories becoming more popular in Europe’s fashion houses, there is much fear that increasing demand will put pressure on wild populations as well as farms, and thus fuel underhanded activities. Besides, there can be no certainty in knowing as to whether a given skin was farmed or taken from the wild.

In addition, captive breeding can be questionable because farms sometimes act as fronts for people to catch wild snakes, then trade their skins as captive bred. So long as there is demand, there will always be a supplier.

The illegal trade in exotic skins – as with all wildlife and wildlife products – is a high profit, low risk endeavour. There is easy money to be made without worrying too much about getting caught. Whether the snakes are wild or captive bred, there are ways to avoid the legal system through falsification of permits and forgery of other documents.

The move for reform by the wildlife department – to better address sustainability and traceability and tackle the illegal network – may be good for conservation, but it means absolutely nothing when it comes to the issue of animal welfare.

SAM believes that no sentient being deserves to be killed for something as frivolous as fashion. Behind luxury fashion accessories lies a dark truth. The barbaric, cruel, stomach churning insights by witnesses into the skinning of snakes alive makes for gruesome reading. Snakes are commonly skinned alive, in the belief that live flaying keeps the skins supple. Furthermore, laws to protect reptiles from such abuses are almost non-existent.

Equally pertinent are the growing concerns about the impact the reptile skin trade is having on fragile species and the eco-systems in which they live. Conservation of snakes is vital due to the role they play within their ecosystems. If snakes are allowed to disappear from rice fields, the prey species whose numbers they control could cause devastating effects on agricultural production, food security and national economies.

People have come to fear these stunning animals, because of their unearned negative reputation. It is high time to consider the plight of the reticulated python in particular, the most popular species when it comes to the manufacture of shoes and handbags. There is fear that the species cannot cope in the long term with the high out-take by the commercial skin trade.

Reptiles may be cold-blooded, but wearing their skins is cold-hearted. Leave the skins where they belong, that is on their “original owner”.

S M Mohd Idris
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)/Friends of the Earth Malaysia (FOEM)
258 Air Itam Road
10460 Penang, Malaysia
Tel: 04-2286930   Fax: 04-2286932

Featured image credit jinterwas, CC BY 2.0

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