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IUCN cries foul over trade in python skins but CITES issued 400,000 export licences

29/11/2012 09:22:46

International Trade Centre have launched a report - Trade in South-East Asian Python Skins

Study raises concern over international trade in python skins

November 2012. A new study finds that close to half a million python skins are reported as exported annually from South-East Asia. The main importer is the European fashion and leather industry. The study raises concerns over the illegality in parts of the trade, animal welfare issues and the trade's impact on the conservation of python populations.

Concerns raised about legal quotas.
Wildlife Extra raised concerns in May 2012 about the sustainability of the trade in python skins - Purely based on CITES export quotas, which make them legal transactions. One of the striking facts revealed by the 2011 quota is the vast trade in pythons from around the world, but mostly from West Africa & Indonesia. The 2011 quota for pythons was more than 400,000! Now it isn't always possible to tell exactly what that number means, but it includes live animals and skins, and, most worryingly, gall bladders. Why on earth are CITES issuing permits for while IUCN are raising concerns about the trade?

Aside from gall bladders, the annual quota for 2011 of 400,000 items seems totally unsustainable - And when you look closer at the figures more than half of this total is for exports from Indonesia - who have a quota for 212,000 pythons or python skins (and an extraordinary 135,000 spitting cobras too!).

Gall bladder permits - Why?
Why does CITES permit trade in python (or any other) gall bladders when the only demand for them is from sad misguided people who believe that it has curative properties for many ailments. CITES also gave permits for 3000+ kilograms of galls and gall bladders to be exported from Russia to Korea alone (many other permits were given too.

To access the CITES database, please click here.

Python report
The report, Trade in South-East Asian Python Skins, was launched by the International Trade Centre (ITC), in co-operation with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and TRAFFIC, a joint programme of IUCN and WWF. It reveals that the trade in python skins is worth an estimated US $1 billion annually.

If IUCN are worried about the trade in python skins, why do they issue 400,000+ export licences?

If IUCN are worried about the trade in python skins, why do they issue 400,000+ export licences?

"The report shows that problems of illegality persist in the trade in python skins and that this can threaten species' survival," says Alexander Kasterine, Head of ITC's Trade and Environment Programme. "The fashion and leather industry has a stronger role to play in supporting the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) and the developing countries to ensure supply is legal and sustainable."

Indonesia, Malaysia and Viet Nam
Indonesia, Malaysia and Viet Nam are the main sources of exports of python skins, with European Union countries - in particular Italy, Germany and France - the biggest importers. Around 70% of all python skins are re-exported via Singapore. The report notes that a lack of transparency concerning undisclosed stockpiles in the country could be facilitating the laundering of illegally sourced skins.

Illegally sourced skins
"It would appear a substantial proportion of the skins in trade are sourced illegally from wild animals, beyond agreed quotas, and using false permits to launder the skins," says Tomas Waller, Chair of IUCN's Boa and Python Specialist Group (BPSG).

"With potentially large mark-ups along the supply chain, there is a strong financial incentive for illegal trade in python skins and considerable scope for traders to issue false permits," says Olivier Caillabet, Programme Officer with TRAFFIC in South-East Asia, and a co-author of the report.

Although more than 20% of exports of Reticulated Python skins from South-East Asia (mainly Viet Nam and Lao PDR) are declared as captive-bred, the report argues that the "commercial case is not convincing and needs to be specifically assessed", noting that the cost of breeding, feeding and maintaining the snakes to reach slaughter size appears much higher than the market price.

Most pythin skins end up in the fashion trade in Italy, Germany and France - So as long as rich Europeans get to spend their austerity cash on unsustainably sourced python skins the IUCN is happy.

Most pythin skins end up in the fashion trade in Italy, Germany and France - So as long as rich Europeans get to spend their austerity cash on unsustainably sourced python skins the IUCN is happy.

The report recommends that the fashion industry implements a traceability system to demonstrate to consumers that its sourcing is legal and sustainable. This would complement the existing CITES permitting system to allow identification of skins along the length of the supply chain.

Lack of sustainability
An additional concern regards the possible lack of sustainability of sourcing. Large numbers of wild pythons are slaughtered before they reach the reproductive stage, meaning harvest quotas may have been set at unsustainable levels. The report recommends a precautionary approach is applied to harvesting, with legally binding minimum skin size limits to ensure protection of immature snakes.

The report highlights previously unknown slaughter methods, yet argues that trade bans are not an effective or fair way to address illegality and animal welfare issues.

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