Archive for the ‘Animal Welfare’ Category

Does the Devil Wear Prada…and Gucci…and Hermes…?

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012


In 2010, I took some of the first video ever seen from inside an Indonesian reptile slaughterhouse and have written a bit about the business here.  Last year, after Swiss filmmaker Karl Amman showed The Medan Connection (viewable below) exposing the inner workings of the trade, Swiss parliament voted to ban imports of python skins from Indonesia on grounds of animal cruelty.  Since Switzerland is important to the three major buyers of reptile skins-the fashion houses Hermes, Gucci, Prada-this was significant.


In the wake of Amman’s film, the International Trade Center (ITC) of the World Trade Organization  in cooperation with CITES launched a project to study the python skin industry. I attended an early meeting in Geneva in which the ITC-CITES skin project was first discussed and because of what I had seen in the field and because of the role Amman’s graphic film had played in prompting the study, I pressed the participants to include humane treatment as part of their report, over the objection of some participants. Since I had begun my legal career specializing in WTO issues, I also questioned whether it was appropriate for CITES as an international trade and conservation body to lend its name to a wildlife effort conducted by the WTO, a commercial treaty organization.  Giving a CITES  ‘stamp of approval’ to a WTO project was a dangerous precedent, I suggested, and would likely not be tolerated by CITES parties if the WTO were researching trade in more popular wildlife species, such as lions.  I questioned whether governments should be funding a study that clearly benefited a small group of powerful fashion houses, who could certainly afford a study, but whose spokespeople claimed ignorance of where their snakeskins came from and how the pythons they bought were killed.

The report, co-authored with TRAFIC and the IUCN, is now out:  Trade in  Southeast Asian Python Skins.  It finds that Indonesia’s method of slaughtering pythons, the bludgeoning method, is “the most humane encountered” in all of Southeast Asia, and determine that it is both a humane and acceptable killing method. Interestingly, rather than call for a ban on skin imports from countries with crueler killing methods than Indonesia’s, the ITC, TRAFFIC and IUCN call upon Switzerland’s upper house to vote against the proposed ban on Indonesian skins on grounds that Switzerland’s ban is “inconsistent and discriminatory,” since Switzerland allows imports from countries whose killing methods are much worse than Indonesia’s.

Here, for example, is the killing method Viet Nam employs:

“In Viet Nam, the research team observed at one slaughterhouse that the live snakes (P. bivittatus) have their mouths and anus sealed using rubber bands. An air compressor is then used to fill the animal’s alimentary canal with air which has the same effect as filling the animal with water (i.e. to facilitate skinning), only the animal is still alive, not having had its head cut off or its brain crushed first. Post-inflation, a rubber banc was also tied around the heart to cause cardiac arrest.”

It may be that bludgeoning is the most humane way known to kill pythons on a large scale, but that does not mean Switzerland is wrong to think the practice unacceptable.   It is the potential loss of the Swiss market that inspired luxury leather dealers to pay attention to reptile slaughter methods in the first place.
Reptiles aside, if you care at all about the evolution of wildlife law, mark this moment.  With this report CITES (and TRAFFIC and the IUCN) take a position on the question of commercial non-discrimination, a WTO principle.

 Some other of the report’s findings:

  • Three leading brands account for 75% of the retail value of the python trade: HVMH (Hermes), PPR (Gucci) and Prada. Other important luxury brands include: Dior, Burberry, Chanel and Giorgio Armani.
  • “Singapore is the most important player in the international python skin trade.”
  • There is a “paucity of information” to determine whether current levels of harvesting from the wild are sustainable
  • Investigators raise questions about the veracity of countries’ captive breeding claims
  • The most heavily traded species is Reticulated python: avg 350,000 individuals per year.
  • Vietnam exports 100,000 Burmese python skins per year (97% of world total). All are declared to have been “captive bred.”
  • The study recommends slaughtering using brain destruction (bludgeoning) with an anvil-type system to hold the head in place (a potential improvement over the hit and miss system)

‘Lush’ Chameleons Creamed

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Here is something out of the ordinary–a cosmetics campaign for BETTER reptile care, and shut down!  Usually the fashion industry is in the business of killing reptiles for handbags.   BUT, in this case a fashion house went out in favor of better reptile care and the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority shut the Lush Cosmetics advert campaign down for pointing out that trade drives some species to extinction. 

This is certainly true for some chameleon species (the Roti Island Snake Necked Turtle might also agree, for example).  Wild-caught chameleons fare horribly in the pet trade, often dying within a year, often dying in-transit.  Here’s an online source the ASA might have started with September 2001 CHAMELEON information Network Journal No. 41,   p. 11 by Ardi Abate, or even this:

Froggie Food Fights Foreshadowed

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012


Here are a couple of stories on a growing problem, or at least an always-evolving problem, the use of reptiles and amphibians as human food.  

Popular among Asians and re-located rednecks, bullfrogs in San Francisco are bringing in the chytrid virus, a deadly amphibian disease that is wiping out frogs around the world.  Here’s a well-written piece on the bullfrog dining issue by John Upton via NY Times Blog.  For more on the virus or on frogs in general go to Kerry Kriger’s comprehensive Save the Frogs, and remember April 28 is Save the Frogs Day (which doesn’t, of course, mean leftovers).

The Washington Post recently had this story on the sale of live animals in Asian supermarkets–live crayfish, eel, bass, bullfrogs, etc.–which are often raised on farms.   The Virginia state agent is wrong when he says in the story that history shows when wildlife is commercialized the population dwindles.  History shows that when wildlife is taken from the wild on a commercial scale its population dwindles, but when wildlife is farmed, as is the case with the species in the story, that is not always the case.   It depends how valuable the animal is price-wise, its reproduction rate, commitment of law enforcement, and the viability of its wild population:  rabbits are better farmed, tigers are not.  American alligators, once on the verge of extinction and now prolific and widely farmed, make a great case study.  They do not, however, make for especially good eating.

My own version of these stories occurred at a pet store not long ago.  I was looking at a pair of red-eared slider turtles swimming around a tank.  An Asian woman standing next to me said to her boyfriend, “They’re so cute.  I just want to take them home and have them for lunch.”  I have heard the same thing about lobsters in Maine, sans the cute part.