Exotic Leather Blog

Ethics and Sustainability of the Reptile Skin Trade: Ratings

Posted by PanAm Leathers on Mar 4, 2020 1:26:06 PM

Following last week's blog post detailing how our Sustainability and Ethics Rating System works, this week we are coming back to you with the first official ratings for all the different types of skins that we offer. It is effectively a report card, assessing how each specie performs in the categories that matter to us. We are constantly working with our suppliers and other industry participants to improve in these categories and we will update the ratings over time as things progress.

We understand that everyone values things differently so this should be a good tool for you to evaluate the things that matter to you, as you make your purchases of exotic skins from us. It is important to note that these ratings only apply to our supply chain. We cannot speak to how others source their exotic skins.


Product Animal Welfare Biodiversity Conservation Meat Use TOTAL
Alligator Skin 1 2 2 2 7
Anaconda Skin 0 2 2 2 6
Arapaima Skin 0 2 1 2 5
Beaver Tail 0 2 4 0 6
Bison Skin 1 2 3 2 8
Blesbok Hide 0 2 3 2 7
Caiman Skin 1 1 2 1 5
Calf Skin 1 1 4 2 8
Carpincho Skin 0 2 3 2 7
Deer Skin 0 2 4 2 8
Eel Skin 0 2 3 2 7
Hair Sheep 1 1 4 2 8
Haircalf 1 1 4 2 8
Hartbeest Hide 0 2 3 2 7
Karung Skin 1 2 3 2 8
Lamb Skin 1 1 4 2 8
Leather 1 1 4 2 8
Lizard Skin 1 2 2 2 7
Nile Crocodile Skin 1 0 2 2 5
Oryx Leather 0 2 3 2 7
Ostrich Skin 1 1 3 2 7
Peccary Leather 0 2 2 2 6
Pig Suede 1 0 4 2 7
Python Skin 1 2 2 2 7
Salmon Skin 1 1 4 2 8
Sea Snake Skin 1 2 3 2 8
Shark Skin 0 2 3 2 7
Shearling 1 1 4 2 8
Shell Cordovan 1 1 4 2 8
Springbok Hide 0 2 3 2 7
Stingray Skin 0 2 3 2 7
Whip Snake Skin 1 2 3 2 8
Zebra Skin 1 2 1 2 6


We hope that you find this useful. Feel free to let us know if you have any questions, concerns or feedback.

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Topics: Ethics, Sustainability

Ethics and Sustainability of the Reptile Skin Trade: Rating System

Posted by PanAm Leathers on Feb 26, 2020 12:00:00 PM

It is supremely important to us that our business is sustainable and ethical. The trade of exotic skins has been around long enough now that we have had plenty of time to figure out how to do good and well at the same time. We want to make sure that the net result of our trade is that people, animals and places are better off. If animals are going to be sacrificed, it needs to be for a greater good.

For some people, no amount of “greater good” justifies the sacrifice of an animal. This is a disconnect between people who live in cities in the developed world and people who live in more remote and less developed areas where they need to protect their loved ones, lands and livelihoods from the threats posed by animals. Animal rights are important. But so are human rights.

To date, we have been proactive about implementing ethics and sustainability standards in our supply chain, but we have not been as good about communicating on it with our customers. When we sell, we communicate about our quality, selection and service; and our customers have always made their buying decisions accordingly. But it is becoming increasingly important to our customers that we deliver on sustainability and ethics as well.

To address this, we have come up with a Sustainability and Ethics Rating System, based on the factors outlined below. Over the coming weeks, we will grade each of product that we offer and place that grade on the product page of our website, so that our customers can factor that into their buying decisions. We hope this is useful for you and we welcome any feedback or questions.

Sustainability and Ethics Ratings

Animal welfare is graded 0-2. Are there scientifically backed standards for how the animals are treated and are they enforced as effectively as possible?

0: There are no standards in place, nor any effort underway to develop standards;

1: Standards and enforcement are being developed;

2: Standards and enforcement are already in effect.


Biodiversity is graded 0-2. Are these animals captive or wild bred? Closed-circuit farms (where animals are bred on the farms) do a lot of good for conservation, preservation of land and economic fairness. But wild-bred animal programs have all the same benefits, plus they have a more direct positive effect on biodiversity. Hunting and egg collection programs are government programs scientifically designed to maintain healthy population levels, so that other species and land preyed on by the species being hunted are protected. Grading is as follows:

0: Captive-bred species from farms that we have not personally visited and are not certified by an organization like ICFA or SARCA;

1: Captive-bred species from farms we have personally visited or are otherwise certified Good farms personally inspected by us or that are certified get 1;

2: Wild-bred species.


Conservation is graded 1-4. It is important that wild populations flourish. Nearly 6,000 species of animals and 30,000 species of plants are protected by CITES. Depending on the degree of protection they need, CITES species are broken into three categories and we grade them based on these appendices:

1: Appendix I contains species threatened with extinction under which trade is only acceptable under extraordinary circumstances. We do not grade this a 0 because the problem has been recognized and steps are being taken to address it;

2: Appendix II species are not as in danger but must be trade-controlled to prevent exploitation.;

3: Appendix III fauna and flora are protected in at least one country, and so CITES countries participate in controlling its trade;

4: Non-appendix species do not require CITES control because there is no credible threat to their survival.


Use of meat is graded 0-2. Reptiles and exotic species are a source of protein for over 2 billion people worldwide. With that said, not all meat is suitable for human consumption for health reasons. In other cases, when governments start nuisance programs for species that have become a problem in their area, there isn’t always a market for the meat to start. This takes some time to develop. So the grading system is as follows:

0: Meat isn't used for human consumption for no good reason;

1: Meat isn’t used for human consumption for one of the reasons described above;

2: Meat is used for human consumption.


We don’t grade for veg-tan versus chrome tanning. Yes, veg-tanned leathers are generally biodegradable but they also don’t last as long as chrome-tanned leathers, so they are more likely to be discarded. Chemicals are bad. But so is waste. So in our book, this is a wash. 

We don’t deal in any species that get a 0 in any of the above criteria. Even if they score perfectly in all other criteria, if they score a 0 in one, we don’t work with them. The best possible score is a 10. You will see the ratings begin to appear on our website product pages in the coming weeks.

This grading system may evolve over time as we learn more and receive feedback from our customers and the broader community. Meanwhile, we hope this will give you some relevant insight. Feel free to contact us with any questions or comments.

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Topics: Ethics, Sustainability

Ethics and Sustainability of the Reptile Skin Trade: SARCA

Posted by PanAm Leathers on Feb 12, 2020 12:00:00 PM

SARCA’s mission is to improve the responsibility and transparency of the Southeast Asian supply chain of reptile skins, primarily python skin, lizard skin and snake skin. Members include luxury brands, manufacturers, tanneries, farmers, trade associations, non-profits, academic and government institutions. SARCA’s research guides corporate and public policy on population controls, animal treatment through the supply chain, habitat preservation and human welfare.    

SARCA is based in Paris. It shapes supply chain policies on how the animals are captured, transported, kept (both short term and long term), raised (in the case of farms) and killed. At the heart of this guidance are general animal welfare principles, animal welfare principles specific to these species, sustainability as it pertains to both the species and their environments, as well as human considerations.

The general animal welfare piece is based on the five freedoms established by the Farm Animal Welfare Council of the United Kingdom and adopted by national veterinary associations like WSAVA Global Veterinary community and animal cruelty groups like the Animal Humane Society, as well as the World Organization for Animal Health. These five freedoms are:

  1. Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor;
  2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and comfortable resting area;
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment;
  4. Freedom to express most normal behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and, as appropriate, company of the animal’s own kind;
  5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment avoid mental suffering.

The animal welfare guidelines specific to these species is based on years of research, SARCA insists that the following additional considerations are taken for pythons, lizards and snakes:

  • These reptiles should never be thrown, dropped or dragged. Even minimal impact from these activities tends to cause severe internal injuries.
  • These reptiles are stressed by vibrations, chemical pollution (including petrol from vehicles or boats) and human activity, so limit their exposure to these things.
  • These reptiles cannot regulate their own temperature so they are dependent on the ambient conditions for this. So it is crucial that air, light, temperature and humidity conditions are well managed. These conditions should vary slightly for feeding, mating, nursing, general living and the reptiles’ other various stages of life.
  • In times of distress, most reptiles seek shelter in dark and confined spaces. So it is important to mimic this environment in situations where the animals could become anxious.
  • Don’t mix sizes and species. Cannibalism is common among reptiles, so it is important to keep them separated by size and specie.

In addition to limiting the stress on the animals, sustainability is paramount. That means that the hunting and farming of these animals must not compromise the survival of the species or their environments. To protect the species, SARCA research informs quotas to make sure the animals are not over-hunted and size limits which ensures that females are allowed to grow to an age where they can reproduce. Research shows that the populations of these species are at stable, abundant levels.

From an environmental standpoint, these species are super-predators which means they tend to dominate their ecosystem in a way that negatively affects biodiversity. In other words, they eat other species into near extinction in their ecosystems. So controlled culling of these super-predators actually protects biodiversity. In addition, when humans can generate income from hunting or farming these species, it gives them an economic incentive to preserve the land and protect the habitat.  

The human element is also interesting. Most of these reptiles are hand-caught by natives in remote parts of Southeast Asia and are sold to distributors or processing facilities for approximately $30 each. For someone who earns just a few dollars a day, this is a substantial economic boost. Also, in these areas, the abundance of these aggressive reptiles threatens human safety. The rules on the ethical ways to handle the reptiles also factor in the human danger involved.

SARCA literature goes into greater detail on all of these topics. Go to the contact page on their website should you want to reach out to them to learn more.

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Topics: Ethics, Sustainability

Ethics and Sustainability of the Reptile Skin Trade: Business for Social Responsibility

Posted by PanAm Leathers on Feb 5, 2020 12:00:00 PM

Institutions like IUCN and CITES have formed the regulatory framework for sustainability and ethics. But increasingly, companies (and people) are looking for ways to be more sustainable above and beyond what the law currently requires. For both virtuous and business reasons, companies want to maintain ethical standards ensuring people and animals are treated fairly and sustainability standards ensuring specie populations and their natural habitats are conserved, all while keeping their customers, suppliers, employees and investors happy. This is no small task. Operating at high ethical and sustainable standards requires costly changes to supply chains and operations. It requires heavy investment, training and retraining, all while staying on production timelines and budgets so companies can deliver on-time in the quality and price points to which their customers are accustomed.

There are a number organizations that exist to help companies navigate these complex challenges. Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) is one of the leaders in this area. BSR helps its 250+ member companies integrate sustainability into its strategy and operations to “create and deliver products and services in a way that treats people fairly, meet individuals’ needs and aspirations within the boundaries of our planet, and encourage market and policy frameworks that enable a sustainable future.”

BSR dates back to the Social Venture Network (SVN), founded by socially-minded entrepreneurs in the late 1980’s. In 1991, SVN spun off BSR with 51 member companies to influence policy formation in Washington D.C.  However, by 1994, BSR’s mission had shifted from influencing public policy to working with companies to integrate social and environmental considerations into their core business. As their focus transitioned from government to corporate, BSR moved their headquarters from Washington D.C. to San Francisco. Between 1994 and 1999, they broadened their focus areas from just environment to:

  1. environment;
  2. human rights;
  3. community economic development; and
  4. governance and accountability.

In 2001 and 2002, BSR opened offices in Hong Kong and Paris, respectively, followed by offices in Copenhagen, Guangzhou, New York, Shanghai and Tokyo. This geographical breadth gave BSR the opportunity to understand the diverse global sustainability challenges.

Throughout the years of consulting engagements, research and collaborations, BSR has undertaken projects in an effort to achieve these 17 goals:

  1. no poverty;
  2. zero hunger
  3. good health and well-being;
  4. quality education;
  5. gender equality;
  6. clean water and sanitation;
  7. affordable and clean energy;
  8. decent work and economic growth;
  9. industry, innovation and infrastructure;
  10. reduced inequalities;
  11. sustainable cities and communities;
  12. responsible consumption and production;
  13. climate action;
  14. life below water;
  15. life on land;
  16. peace, justice and strong institutions;
  17. partnerships for the goals.

BSR collaborates with hundreds of organizations and initiatives which align around the one or more of the goals above. The Southeast Asian Reptile Conservation Alliance (SARCA) is one of these initiatives. We will learn all about SARCA in the next blog post.


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Topics: Ethics, Sustainability

Ethics and Sustainability of the Reptile Skin Trade: CITES

Posted by PanAm Leathers on Jan 29, 2020 12:00:00 PM
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ( CITES) is the most recognizable organization in the management of the exotic skin trade. CITES is an international agreement between the governments of nearly 200 member countries aiming to ensure that international trade in specimens and plants does not threaten their survival. The CITES resolution was adopted at the 1963 IUCN meeting and entered into force on July 1, 1975 in response to the steep decline of populations of various animal species due to trade.

CITES, based in Switzerland, works by subjecting trade in CITES-listed species to certain protections, a combination of licenses, permits, quotas and other rules designed to conserve the species’ survival in their various circumstances. One or more authority is responsible for managing the set of rules that apply to each specie (for example, a country’s wildlife agency) and one or more scientific authority is responsible for designing the policies that protect those species (for example, IUCN). CITES sets the minimum standard for the trade of each specie and then each member country can layer its own rules on top of that to protect their own priorities and account for its limitations.

Nearly 6,000 species of animals and 30,000 species of plants are protected by CITES. Depending on the degree of protection they need, CITES species are broken into three categories:
  • Appendix I contains species threatened with extinction under which trade is only acceptable under extraordinary circumstances.
  • Appendix II species are not as in danger but must be trade-controlled to prevent exploitation. This category includes about 1,400 animal species and 25,000 plant species.
  • Appendix III fauna and flora are protected in at least one country, and so CITES countries participate in controlling its trade. There are about 270 animal species and 30 plant species listed under Appendix III.
Exporting products containing specimens from Appendix I and II requires an export permit. For Appendix III species, an export permit is needed if the species is originating from the country that listed it as Appendix III.

CITES also issues re-export licenses for certain species under Appendix II and III. A re-export permit is needed if exporting specimens that were previously imported, whether as skins or finished goods. An example of this would be if skins are exported from USA to Italy, goods are manufactured from the skins in Italy and then those finished goods are re-exported to USA to be sold in stores.

To see how CITES regulations are applied in your country, you can consult your local management authority. For information specific to the US application of CITES rules, you can check out our previous blog posts on this topic.


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Topics: CITES, Ethics, Sustainability

Ethics of the Reptile Skin Trade: IUCN and CSG

Posted by PanAm Leathers on Jan 22, 2020 12:00:00 PM

Modern-day sustainability practices were born out of international organizations dating back to the mid-20th century. The sustainable trade of alligator skin, caiman skin, crocodile skin, python skin, lizard skin and other exotic skins has been the result of an incredible and nearly unprecedented international collaboration between public and private enterprises across research, implementation and enforcement functions. We will study the most important ones for the exotic skin trade in the next few blog posts. The focus of this post however, is the the godfather of all of these organizations: the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

The IUCN is the original sustainable trade organization. It was founded in France in 1948 and is now based in Switzerland. It is focused on research, advocacy and education on the sustainable use of natural resources with over 1,300 members (both government and private organizations), 15,000 contributing experts and activities in over 160 countries. The main themes of IUCN work tackle conservation, environmental and ecological issues, spread across six commissions:

  1. Commission on Education and Communication (CEC) distributes, educates and trains the conservation community on IUCN findings;
  2. Commission of Ecosystem Management (CEM) provides guidance and support to maintain healthy ecosystems and biodiversity;
  3. Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) generates and disseminates knowledge on how to balance the conservation of nature with humans' social, cultural, environmental and economic needs;
  4. Species Survival Commission (SSC) provides information to the IUCN on how species and their ecosystems depend on each other and how they support human livelihoods;
  5. World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL) provides legal support for environmental conservation and sustainable development globally;
  6. World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) develops policy advice on topics of protected areas.

Crocodile Specialist Group

The Crocodile Specialist Group (CSG) is one of more than 120 species specialist groups within IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. It was formed in 1971 and has since become one of the most influential organizations in the trade of alligator skin, crocodile skin and other exotic leathers with around 600 members. Its main mission is to help the IUCN and SSC to meet their missions with regards to the conservation, management and sustainable use of crocodile species. Its stated goals as they pertain to crocodile species are specifically:

  • To provide expert opinion and advice on conservation, management and sustainable use of crocodiles for the various industry participants;
  • To encourage and assist in capacity-building in order to achieve the mission;
  • To balance human uses and benefits with those of the animals and their habitats, as per widely adopted standards;
  • To identify problems in crocodilian conservation, design, implement and test solutions and adapt those solutions over time;

CSG pioneered the concept of conservation through sustainable use, responsible for the exploding populations of several exotic species worldwide (many from near extinction in the 1970s). CSG experts perform research, draw conclusions and advise and train governments, wildlife management agencies and other industry participants on the conservation needs of crocodilian populations.

The CSG works closely with CITES, another international organization born from the IUCN, to promote sustainable legal trade of these species. We will learn more about CITES in the next blog post.

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Topics: CITES, Ethics, Sustainability

Ethics of the Reptile Skin Trade: History

Posted by PanAm Leathers on Jan 14, 2020 12:00:00 PM

It is important to understand the historical factors that brought about the trade and corresponding regulation that exists today. Reptiles involved in the trade come from all over the world. Alligators and crocodiles are native to the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia. Lizards are native to Africa, Asia and South America. Pythons are mostly native to Southeast Asia. So the stories of the trade of all these species vary a bit. But the central themes are the same.

Reptiles have always played a part in human culture. While being worshiped in some regions, reptiles were hunted for their meat, skin and parts for clothing, food, medicine and religious and decorative purposes elsewhere.

The first records of commercial use of reptile skins in modern societies were crocodilian skins in North America in the 1800s. During and after the American Civil War in the 1860s, there was high demand for footwear, belts, saddlebags and cases. Tens of thousands of American alligators were hunted and processed in local tanneries. There weren't enough American alligators harvested, so other species of crocodile further south in Mexico and Central America were also used. After the Second World War and during the subsequent economic revival, crocodilian skins were again in high demand, resulting in dangerously low population levels for most of these species.

To fight for the survival of many of these threatened species, in the 1960s and 1970s, research organizations and government agencies began to form and work together to identify and address the detrimental harvest practices. The most impactful of these detrimental practices were found to be:

  • overharvesting. Today, there are harvest quotas.
  • non-selection of sexes which often resulted in over-harvesting females. Males currently comprise approximately 70% of adult alligators harvested.
  • no closed season, allowing hunting to coincide with nesting, which resulted in the harvest of future populations by harvesting females before they could release hatchlings from the nest or even begin nesting. Current seasons are conducted after nesting.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the sustainable-use programs developed to address these issues were slowly implemented across the most affected regions. For example, in 1967, the alligator was put on the endangered species list. By 1971, when the CSG began, all 23 species of crocodilian were endangered or threatened. In an effort to restore the animal and the industry, researchers at Rockefeller Refuge in Louisiana developed a revolutionary program of alligator farming/ranching that removes eggs from the wild, incubates and hatches them, and then, two years later, returns between 14% and 17% of those hatchlings to the wild. Upon return, they are between three and six feet in length, healthy, and capable of defending themselves in the marsh. As a result, the percentage of returns (i.e. 14%) is greater than the survival rate for eggs left in the marsh.

Due to the success of this "conservation through utilization" program, the alligator was removed from the endangered species list in 1987. This program also set an example that inspired similar sweeping changes in the crocodile locales across the globe. So much so that by 1996, one-third of all crocodile species were sufficiently abundant to support well-regulated annual harvests and one-third of the species were no longer in danger of extinction but are not harvested. No other group of vertebrate animals has undergone such a dramatic improvement in its conservation status. Now, there are over 3 million American alligators in the wild. 

This transformation also necessitated and fostered the establishment of conservation groups like CITES and the Crocodile Specialist Group that have played a pivotal role protecting these species. We will explore these and other related organizations, agencies and authorities in our next blog.

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Topics: CITES, Ethics, Sustainability

Ethics of the Reptile Skin Trade: Introduction

Posted by PanAm Leathers on Jan 7, 2020 12:00:00 PM

The exotics skin trade is an amazing force for good. PanAm Leathers’ curated, sustainable supply chain maintains wild reptile populations and their habitats, feeds over two billion people globally, supports less fortunate local and national economies and promotes science-backed animal welfare principles. You have probably heard this from us before. In the coming blog series, we are going to dive into the details, so you can better understand this.

We will examine the long history of the reptile trade to understand the factors that have shaped its current form. We will look at the research, veterinary and animal rights organizations, legislative bodies and enforcement agencies involved and how they each contribute. The scientific lab and field research done by these organizations has provided revolutionary insight on how we think about reptiles' well-being along the supply chain, from capture to transport to holding to captive breeding and finally processing. We also evaluate the environmental and human limitations that factors into the handling of the animals, as well as how the environment and local populations are ultimately affected by the trade. 

In short, these are some of the key questions that we will answer in the coming blogs:

  • Where did the industry came from?
  • How does it work?
  • How is it regulated?
  • What are the various stages of the supply chain?
  • How are the animals treated at each stage of the supply chain?
  • What are they used for?
  • How are human populations and wild habitats affected by the industry?
  • What is the science behind it all?

Our industry has invested heavily over the past few decades in research and implementation of policies and procedures to make sure we are sustainable. Now, we want to work just as hard to communicate what we are doing and how and why we are doing it, so that our customers can understand and explain it to the people that matter to them. 

We hope the coming blog series will serve as a useful tool. And as always, let us know if you have any questions for us through out. 

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Topics: CITES, Ethics, Sustainability

International Trade of Exotic Skins: Resources and Contacts

Posted by PanAm Leathers on Dec 12, 2019 12:00:00 PM

We have done the best we can to explain the complicated process of importing and exporting exotic skins from the US. As you go through the process, we understand that you may have additional questions. We are always at your disposal, but below are some other useful resources and contacts.

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Topics: CITES, Ethics, Sustainability

International Trade of Exotic Skins: Differences Across Species

Posted by PanAm Leathers on Nov 25, 2019 3:54:35 PM

Different species have different levels of protection under CITES, depending on their population levels. That means the import/export requirements vary a bit across species. In this blog, we will try to summarize what is required for each of the species that we supply at PanAm Leathers. 

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Topics: CITES, Ethics, Sustainability