Exotic Leather Blog

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.

Topics: Ethics, Sustainability