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Sustainability and the exotic skin trade

I wanted to start off my blog by posting about sustainability and the exotic skin trade. This is such a hot topic and has been for years. Sadly, due to all the propaganda and misinformation from animal activists and groups like PETA, the average person has the general impression that maybe it's not good or ethical to use exotic leathers.


When brands like Chanel "take a stand" and declare they won't use exotic skins anymore for their production, they are just virtue signaling and trying to profit from positive media exposure. The truth is it has nothing to do with their "ethics" and all to do with profitability and not having a good supply chain to source their exotic skins. It's shameful that these big brands use their massive power to promote disinformation among consumers on such an import issue (that they claim to care about), all for the bottom line.


Well, I want to help spread the truth about this issue. Not only because in my business I use a lot of exotic skins, but also because I believe that people, like me, who truly care about the environment and animals should know the truth. They should know the science behind it all and the long term conservation programs that have been in place for decades that prove the science. They should know that stopping the exotic leather industry is actually damaging to the environment.


The public needs to understand that the highly regulated exotic leather industry achieves exactly what we all want: a cleaner, more sustainable world that not only supplies us with amazing natural products, but at the same time secures and grows the population of these amazing animals and supports their environment.


So let's start off by taking a look at the science.

The following FAQs have been compiled by 15 of the world's leading scientific experts on reptile biology, conservation management, and trade. They provides answers to common questions and myths about exotic leathers based on the best available science.


I have added here the short answers. For the full, more in-depth answers to these FAQs I highly recommend visiting https://www.epicbiodiversity.com/faqs . EPIC Biodiversity is a global consulting company specializing in research and cross-sector collaboration to achieve sustainable impact for the environment, people and conservation.


I would love to hear your all comments and thoughts on this topic! Especially if you have worked within the fashion industry and have some behind the scenes insight.


Peter


FAQs


1) Is the use of reptiles by people a recent phenomenon?

No. People have been using reptiles as a source of food, material, and medicine for thousands of years.


2) Why are reptile skins considered exotic leathers?

Reptile skins typically include ornate and intricate textures and patterns that are not often seen in leathers derived from conventional livestock. By western standards they are sourced from non-native species native to tropical and ‘exotic’ locations.

3) Why does the luxury industry still use exotic leathers?

Exotic leathers are durable and versatile renewable materials. They are far superior to imitations and alternatives in terms of CO2 emissions, ecological sustainability, and the benefits they deliver to rural communities.

4) Is using exotic leathers responsible?

Yes. Using exotic leathers confers substantial benefits to wildlife conservation, environmental sustainability, and rural livelihoods.

5) Are all harvested and farmed reptiles destined for the luxury industry?

No. The greatest proportion of the reptile trade comprises food and pharmaceutical sectors. Leather is often a co-product of these industries.

6) Is farming or harvesting reptiles hazardous for workers?

Farming and harvesting reptiles is no more hazardous than any comparable rural industry. It is true that several traded species (e.g., crocodiles, venomous snakes) are dangerous, but rigorous management and safety protocols mitigate associated risks.


7) Does farming or harvesting of reptiles increase risks of human disease?

No. Reptiles seldom transmit diseases to humans because of our vastly different physiologies (cold blooded versus warm blooded). Compared to warm-blooded animals like chickens or pigs, the threat they pose is minimal.

8) Should the luxury industry feel proud about their use of exotic leather?

Yes. Using exotic leather generates substantial benefits for wildlife and ecosystem conservation, environmental sustainability, and rural livelihoods.

9) Why not substitute exotic leather with faux or fake leather?

When compared to natural reptile leather, artificial exotic leathers are heavily processed, less sustainable and confer fewer benefits to social and environmental wellbeing.

10) Why do some animal rights groups insist fashion brands and retailers should stop using exotic leathers?

Some animal rights groups are fundamentally opposed to the use of animals for any purpose. Although extreme, their views are theirs to hold. However, the public should be aware that these groups commonly spread false and misleading information.

11) How is the reptile trade controlled?

Tiers of local, national and international laws control the reptile trade. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is the main body regulating international trade of wildlife, including farmed and wild harvested reptiles.


12) What is CITES and how does it regulate the trade in exotic leathers?

CITES is a United Nations Convention agreed between 198 countries known as Parties. CITES regulates international trade in wildlife through a system of permits, certificates and trade restrictions.


13) Are there certifications for exotic leather sourcing?

Yes. Several internationally recognised certifications and standards for ethical trade in exotic leathers exist.


14) Is there a significant amount of illegal trade in exotic leathers?

No. Some illegal trade has existed, but this represents a tiny fraction in terms of overall volume and today has no impact on the conservation outcomes of the trade.


15) Is there significant illegal capture and exportation of wild reptiles through legal breeding farms?

This has been a challenge for a few species in the past, but for the vast majority of trade it is not considered a significant conservation threat.


16) Can exotic leathers be traced back to their source?

Yes. Similar to the food industry, many sophisticated traceability systems now exist for trade in exotic leathers.


17) What does ‘sustainability’ mean in the reptile trade?

Sustainability means preserving optimal outcomes for biodiversity conservation, people and the environment, while ensuring impeccable welfare standards for traded reptiles.


18) Is the reptile trade sustainable?

Yes. The vast majority of the exotic leather trade in terms of species, volume, source, and purpose is legal, well-regulated and sustainable.


19) Are reptile farms sustainable?

Yes, reptile farming is highly sustainable. It is increasingly considered a ‘green’ start-up sector offering a diverse spectrum of innovative opportunities in sustainable food systems and climate change resilience.



20) Are wild harvests of reptiles sustainable?

Yes. Some reptile species are biologically and ecologically well-suited to sustained harvesting. Numerous scientific studies have proven that the wild harvesting of reptiles for exotic leather is sustainable.

21) How are reptiles killed, and is it humane?

Reptiles are killed by destruction of the brain, using a tool such as a bolt pistol. Brain destruction results in near-instantaneous death causing minimal pain or suffering. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has approved this method.


22) Does the reptile trade help local communities?

Yes. The trade benefits millions of people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. It is a globally important source of food, material and livelihood throughout the tropics, just like traditional livestock in the temperate North.


23) What would be the impact if we banned the exotic reptile trade?

A ban on the use of exotic leather will have negative impacts, both on humans and on biodiversity conservation. The exotic reptile trade enables numerous synergies between people and nature, and these would be forced to give way to less sustainable alternatives.


24) What can be done to improve the reptile trade?

There are organisations and initiatives aimed at strengthening the resilience of the exotic leather trade by optimizing benefits for species, the environment, and people. Commercial entities participating in the exotic leather trade should involve themselves in these initiatives.


25) Is there any science supporting exotic leather trade and is it trustworthy?

Yes. There is a wealth of scientific evidence supporting the benefits and sustainability of the exotic leather trade. Scientific studies have been ongoing since the 1970s.


26) What is the best source of factual information?

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) should be the first port of call for assistance. It is the largest, oldest and most reputable source of factual information available, and will help you connect with the most reliable source of relevant knowledge.


MYTHS


Extremist animal rights organisations, opposed fundamentally to all uses of animals by people, depend financially on public subscription. They use standard strategies for advertising formally and through contrived media stories. They never acknowledge benefits of trade, and embellish negative associations whenever possible. The most common approach is to create or find an example of dubious treatment and imply that it characterises the industry as a whole. Such claims are fallacious and fabricated but nevertheless effective. They fall into the class of “myths”.

1) Is child labour used in the exotic leather trade?

No. There is no evidence of child labour in the exotic leather trade.


2) Are reptiles skinned alive?

No. Because they are cold-blooded, reptiles can continue to move for up to an hour after death, giving the impression that they are still alive.


3) Are snakes filled with water to kill them?

No. Water is used to help separate the skin from the carcass, and is only applied after the animal has been humanely killed.



4) Are reptiles only killed for their leather?

No. The greatest proportion of the reptile trade comprises the food and pharmaceutical sectors. Leather is often a co-product of these industries.


5) Are crocodiles kept in restrictive and overcrowded pens?

Like other livestock industries, the reptile industry is governed by strict laws and science-based regulations, and this includes stocking densities. Ironically, overcrowding invariably leads to poor quality skin and is therefore actively avoided as a commercial imperative.


6) Is it true that crocodilians are farmed in unclean water?

Water quality is managed by sophisticated water management regimes, much like the aquaculture industry, and exceeds water quality in the wild. It may not reach our swimming pool standards, but exceeds levels needed to maintain health and wellbeing, and is implemented to ensure the highest quality leather.


7) Is it true that species are being driven to extinction by trade?

No. Ironically, populations of species involved in trade are typically healthier than those that are not, usually because they have benefited from agricultural expansion (much like rodent pests) or because trade has provided incentives for their conservation.


8) Does trade in exotic leathers increase the risk of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19?

No. Reptiles seldom transmit diseases to humans because of our vastly different physiologies (cold blooded versus warm blooded). Within the context of global food and agricultural systems, reptiles are a natural barrier against the transmission of diseases like COVID-19.


Click here to go to EPIC Biodiversity's website.


Big thanks to Christy Plott from American Tanning for educating me on a lot of these issues and for fighting for the truth, the environment, and the exotic skin industry!


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