Exotic Leather Blog

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