Exotic Leather Blog

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

The Proper USA Licensing for the International Trade of Exotic Skins

Posted by PanAm Leathers on Nov 19, 2019 12:00:00 PM

In this blog, we will go over the licenses and permits required to import and export exotic skins in the US. How do you get these licenses? How much do they cost? How long does it take? Is it the same process for every shipment? We will answer all these questions and more below.

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Topics: CITES, Ethics, Sustainability

Introduction to the International Trade of Exotic Skins

Posted by PanAm Leathers on Nov 13, 2019 12:00:00 PM


One of the challenges of the exotic skin industry is the nuance of the importing and exporting of these products. Whether you are trading skins themselves or finished products made from exotic skin, you need to be familiar with the rules, regulations and procedures. In this blog series, we will cover the do’s and don’ts of the international trade of exotic skins, especially as it pertains to the USA.  

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Topics: CITES, Ethics, Sustainability

Ideal Uses for Shark Skin Exotic Leathers

Posted by PanAm Leathers on Jul 15, 2019 10:51:53 AM

Even among exotic leathers, shark skin is an extraordinary and unique material. In fact, there are many people who don’t even know that shark hide is an option for their exotic leather projects.

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Topics: exotic skin grades, shark skin

Defining Qualities of Shark Leather

Posted by PanAm Leathers on Jul 15, 2019 10:51:28 AM

Knowing the defining qualities of exotic leathers is key for choosing the right one for your needs. For example, some hides are soft and flexible, while others are rigid and tough. So, what are the qualities of shark leather?

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Topics: exotic skin grades, shark skin

How to Measure and Grade Shark Skin

Posted by Abram Mendal on May 20, 2019 12:54:47 PM

In a recent post, we discussed the origin of the blue shark skin that PanAm Leathers uses for its shark skin offering. The blue shark, or prionace glauca, is a widespread shark species that can be found in almost any ocean (except for the Arctic Ocean). PanAm Leathers’ shark skin comes from sources in the fishing industry, as a byproduct of blue sharks that have been fished for their meat.

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Topics: exotic skin grades, shark skin