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Study raises con­cern over inter­na­tional trade in python skins

pub­lished 30 Novem­ber 2012 | mod­i­fied 05 Decem­ber 2012

Python Skins Burma

A new study finds that close to half a mil­lion python skins are reported as exported annu­ally from South-​East Asia. The main importer is the Euro­pean fash­ion and leather indus­try. The study raises con­cerns over the ille­gal­ity in parts of the trade, ani­mal wel­fare issues and the trade’s impact on the con­ser­va­tion of python pop­u­la­tions.

The report, Trade in South-​East Asian Python Skins, was launched Novem­ber 27 by the Inter­na­tional Trade Cen­tre (ITC), in coop­er­a­tion with the Inter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Nature (IUCN) and TRAF­FIC, a joint pro­gramme of IUCN and WWF. It reveals that the trade in python skins is worth an esti­mated US $1 bil­lion annu­ally.

The report shows that prob­lems of ille­gal­ity per­sist in the trade in python skins and that this can threaten species’ survival
Alexan­der Kas­ter­ine, Head of ITC’s Trade and Envi­ron­ment Pro­gramme »
Kas­ter­ine adds: “The fash­ion and leather indus­try has a stronger role to play in sup­port­ing the Con­ven­tion on Inter­na­tional Trade in Endan­gered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) and the devel­op­ing coun­tries to ensure sup­ply is legal and sus­tain­able.”

Indone­sia, Malaysia and Viet­nam are the main sources of exports of python skins, with Euro­pean Union coun­tries — in par­tic­u­lar Italy, Ger­many and France — the biggest importers. Around 70% of all python skins are re-​exported via Sin­ga­pore. The report notes that a lack of trans­parency con­cern­ing undis­closed stock­piles in the coun­try could be facil­i­tat­ing the laun­der­ing of ille­gally sourced skins.

It would appear a sub­stan­tial pro­por­tion of the skins in trade are sourced ille­gally from wild ani­mals, beyond agreed quo­tas, and using false per­mits to laun­der the skins
Tomas Waller, Chair of IUCN Species Sur­vival Commission’s (SSC) Boa and Python Spe­cial­ist Group (BPSG)).

With poten­tially large mark-​ups along the sup­ply chain, there is a strong finan­cial incen­tive for ille­gal trade in python skins and con­sid­er­able scope for traders to issue false permits
(Olivier Cail­l­a­bet, co-​author of the report, and Pro­gramme Offi­cer with TRAF­FIC in South-​East Asia)

Although more than 20% of exports of Retic­u­lated Python (Python retic­u­la­tus) skins from South-​East Asia (mainly Viet­nam and Lao PDR) are declared as captive-​bred, the report argues that the “com­mer­cial case is not con­vinc­ing and needs to be specif­i­cally assessed”, not­ing that the cost of breed­ing, feed­ing and main­tain­ing the snakes to reach slaugh­ter size appears much higher than the mar­ket price.

The report rec­om­mends that the fash­ion indus­try imple­ments a trace­abil­ity sys­tem to demon­strate to con­sumers that its sourc­ing is legal and sus­tain­able. This would com­ple­ment the exist­ing CITES per­mit­ting sys­tem to allow iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of skins along the length of the sup­ply chain.

An addi­tional con­cern regards the pos­si­ble lack of sus­tain­abil­ity of sourc­ing. Large num­bers of wild pythons are slaugh­tered before they reach the repro­duc­tive stage, mean­ing har­vest quo­tas may have been set at unsus­tain­able lev­els. The report rec­om­mends a pre­cau­tion­ary approach is applied to har­vest­ing, with legally bind­ing min­i­mum skin size lim­its to ensure pro­tec­tion of imma­ture snakes. The report high­lights pre­vi­ously unknown slaugh­ter meth­ods, yet argues that trade bans are not an effec­tive or fair way to address ille­gal­ity and ani­mal wel­fare issues.

(Source: IUCN News release, 27.11.2012)

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