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Reptile Skin








Reptile Skin


Down & Feathers


The Byproduct Myth




How Long
Animals Live

Wildlife Body Parts, Fur, & Leather

Wildlife "Cuisine"





Reptile skin is admired by designers and consumers for its variation in texture and the glistening effect of brilliant translucent dyes applied during the finishing process. Manufacturers market snake and alligator skin, along with other reptile hides, for expensive luxury merchandise like shoes, handbags, wallets, jackets, vests, and trim on hats and gloves.


Millions of reptile skins are exported, imported, or smuggled every year, and much of this trade is in contravention of international agreements protecting endangered species. After weapons and drugs, traffic in live exotic animals is the third largest black market in the world. The animals illegally hunted in the wild, and, increasingly legally intensively farmed, are coming from Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, India, China, and the Philippines. They are being shipped through Mexico, Singapore, Japan, and Taiwan on their way into the large manufacturing markets of the U.S., EU, Canada, and China.


Captive Alligators and Crocodiles

Commercial enterprises established to ranch alligators have been attracting new interest. Set up on nonproductive or marginal wetlands, these factory farms, with few regulations to meet, are making use of an animal with potential for greater exploitation. In captive breeding programs where the mortality rate is as low as 10%, the alligator grows quickly and reaches a marketable size at a young age (a length of 57 feet within 3 years). Hatchling alligators are raised in growout operations (feedlots) with successively larger pens to accommodate their increasing size. The facilities are made of concrete at a low height and with hinged roof panels to make feeding safer and killing easier. Recently, some farms have been built alongside a chicken business where the poultry farmers can dispose of the 56 percent of chickens who die before they are ready for slaughter. Burying or incinerating dead chickens is tightly regulated and a burden for the farmers, so feeding them to the alligators is a convenient solution.


When they are about 3 years old, the farmer will harvest his alligators for their hides and meat. The worker stands over the animal and clubs him, perhaps with 6 or 7 blows to the head to stun him. He then makes a deep incision across the neck and pulls back the skin from the body. He is left there to die, which can take as much as another 2 hours, with the alligator writhing in agony before he finally loses consciousness.


Crocodiles have been farmed in Israel for two decades, and they are processed, among other things, into skin products. Since 2000, China has strongly entered this market with an annual yield of 80,000 skins (displacing Israel for second place behind South Africa). Current expectations are for yearly worldwide harvests of more than 2 million hides, but that figure doesn't take into account the illegal traffic in similar crocodilian species like the 20-foot Indian gavial, the Indonesian Komodo dragon, the Philippine monitor lizard, or the extremely rare New Zealand tuatara. Alligators can live 3050 years.






Many people have a deeply rooted fear of snakes, in spite of the fact that most are extremely shy, harmless, and avoid contact with any animal larger than itself. At the same time, the skin of snakes is appealing and is considered, by many customers, appropriate for clothing and accessories. With this in mind, fashion designers market clothes and footwear made from snakes as elite. With the extra distinction of being unusual, they command high prices as prestige items. Interesting patterns, strong textures, a broad variety of colors, and the shiny surface add to the allure.


In some regions of India, villagers collect poisonous snakes to milk their venom and therefore have expertise in handling quick and dangerous animals. During the winter mating season, snakes are everywhere and easily caught. This provides a windfall income, particularly for cobra and python, yet this collection and trade has been banned since 1972 under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act. When wildlife wardens discover consignments of skins, or even finished products, they are confiscated and burned by the Forest Department. Similar legislation (Nepal 1957, Thailand 1960) is common throughout Asia, but ignored.


When caught, a nail is hammered through the neck of the snake into a tree, and then the hunter will make a small cut under the head and a long slice all the way down its stomach. He grabs the skin at the top and peels it away in one piece. The snake is left to die, which can take 23 days.


In China, snakes are available in open-air village markets, along with general produce. They are presented for sale in flat cylindrical net cages with 1020 in each. When a customer makes a selection, the salesman steps on the snake's head holding it in place, slits through the body behind the head, and pulls the skin free. Still wiggling, the rest of the snake is set aside in a plastic bag to be sold for meat or brought home for a meal.


Ratsnakes, cobras, kraits, and pythons live 2030 years. They are typically caught during the mating season, when they are sexually mature at 34 years old. 


Live Reptile Trade

The live reptile trade is bringing some of the world's most critically endangered species closer to the brink of extinction. It is largely unregulated, with only a few species listed in Appendix I or II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Specialist collectors demand specimens of the world's most rare creatures, fueling illegal collection and smuggling of unique species. Prices can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars (Komodo dragon, $30,000; Chinese alligator, $15,000) for black market animals captured in the wild and delivered to Europe, North America, and Japan.


Intended to protect animals, CITES sometimes legitimizes the development of wildlife factory farming. An example of this occurred when a live cargo of snakes was intercepted along the Vietnamese frontier with China, in the village of Vinh Son. The local farmers had farmed snakes to truck across the border for sale when a forest ranger discovered that they didn't carry the correct paperwork for live export. The village authorities were able to forge an agreement with customs officials so that the snake farmers could legally export their snakes in the future. A plan of inspections was instituted that monitored the villagers collecting wild snakes to use as breeding stock, then releasing them back into the jungle after a substantial captive population was finally raised. In this way, the snake farming operation met CITES requirements of not exporting endangered species, because the animals were not caught in the wild. Today, intensive snake farming is the livelihood for 700 of the 1,000 families in this village.


It is true that the CITES mandate was fulfilled, but a legacy of much greater animal exploitation was instituted in the process. Very sadly, CITES-approved wildlife ranching programs are becoming well established, and although they stop illicit trade today, in the long term many more animals will be tortured and killed.