From: Anna Taylor, The Ecologist, More from this Affiliate
Published January 9, 2013 08:50 AM

Python Trade Influenced by Fashion Industry

A report released last month by the International Trade Centre has raised concerns over many aspects of the snake skin trade, most notably high levels of illegal trading, plus concerns about the welfare and conservation of the species involved.

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The report, entitled "The Trade in South-East Asian Python Skins", was backed by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, (IUCN).

The authors used information gathered from interviews with exporters and importers, hunters, government officials, conservationists and vets to highlight the now urgent need for more control over a trade which is threatening the survival of pythons.

Pythons in South-East Asia are traded for food and traditional Chinese medicine as well as for their skins, which are valued throughout the world. Nearly half a million python skins are exported every year, the vast majority being used to make luxury fashion accessories such as handbags, belts, wallets and shoes. One leather bag made from just half a skin can sell for up to £6,000.

The European fashion industry accounts for 96% of the python skin market, with the main importers being Italy, France and Spain. The leading manufacturers and retailers of python skins are the designer brands Hermes, Gucci and Prada.

Python skins are sourced mainly from Indonesia and Malaysia, although in recent years, Vietnam and the Lao People's Democratic Republic have also become more prominent in the trade.

The python species traded most often from South-East Asia is the world's longest snake, the Reticulated python, with nearly 350,000 skins exported annually. Around 100,000 Burmese python skins are exported each year, and Short-tailed python species account for around 80,000 annual exports.

Most pythons are captured from the wild, typically collected and processed by poor rural people who hunt them as an additional source of income.

It is a highly profitable trade, with the value of the python skin market estimated to be over £625 million (US$1 billion).The report, however, also highlighted the vast numbers of python skins that are traded illegally warning the black market trade has become so bad it may soon equal and even overtake the legally-controlled operations.

Olivier Caillabet, programme officer with TRAFFIC in South-East Asia, and a co-author of the new report, said: "With potentially large mark-ups along the supply chain, there is a strong financial incentive for the illegal trade in python skins and considerable scope for traders to issue false permits."

Continue reading at The Ecologist.

Snakeskin image via Shutterstock.

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