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The Exotic Skins trade

Millions of wild animals (like crocodiles, alligators, and snakes) are killed for their skin every year to produce exotic leather, either bred and killed on farms, or caught in the wild. 

From crocodile boots to snakeskin wallets, the use of exotic animal skins is prevalent throughout the fashion industry. Unfortunately, more thought is given to the look and price of the product than the animal killed to produce it. 

However, due to rising ethical concerns from consumers, some luxury fashion brands like Prada, Chanel, Victoria Beckham, Vivienne Westwood, and Diane von Furstenberg have announced they will no longer use exotic skins and celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, Miley Cyrus, Pamela Anderson, and Simon Cowell are outspoken advocates against their use. 

Cruel conditions

When raised in captivity on commercial farms, the behavioral needs and sensitive biology of alligators and crocodiles can be easily overlooked, leading to extremely poor welfare conditions. 

On farms, they are trapped in an environment that deprives them of their basic needs such as fresh air, clean water, ample sunshine, space, and a proper diet. The overcrowded conditions lead to bloody cuts and scratches from fighting and stress, and the lack of available dry spaces leave many reptiles stranded in dirty water resulting in infected wounds and skin rashes¹. And despite assurances from farms that the alligators and crocodiles are rendered unconscious before being quickly killed, undercover investigations revealed this was not the case. 

Investigations by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and other animal welfare organizations have shown the poor living conditions for these animals on farms in the U.S. and abroad and the immense cruelty involved in the “harvesting” of these reptiles for the exotic leather trade. Investigators documented frequent occurrences of brutal and inhumane practices in which the animals were crudely stabbed, cut into, and skinned while still alive and conscious, causing a horribly slow death filled with immense pain and suffering.²

The two most exported crocodilian species are the American alligator from the US and the Nile crocodile from Africa, together accounting for 80% of the total trade in what’s considered “classic” exotic skins.³ 

Snakeskin

Unlike alligator and crocodile farming, the farming of snakes is considered less lucrative, making the taking of wild animals a much more attractive method. Italy is “one of the largest manufactures of snakeskin products” and “the United States accounts for about 50% of the Italian export market for the finished goods.”⁴

The legal trade in some wild species, like reticulated pythons, provides a very useful cover for the even more profitable illegal trade in wild snakes, contributing to the continuing decimation of threatened snake populations.⁵ With fewer animal protection laws for reptiles, the illegal trade, and poor traceability standards, it is very difficult for brands and consumers to know the true source of the snakeskin used in exotic leather products. 

Whether a snake is wild or “farmed”, the process to kill a snake for its skin is a cruel one. Accounts of the cruelty range from snakes being hit on the head with a hammer and pumped full of water (to make their bodies swell and the skin easier to remove)⁶, large snakes being starved to death to make the skin looser and then pumped full of water, to snakes being nailed to trees and skinned alive.⁷

American Alligators

In the United States, two native reptile species are the American alligator and the American crocodile. The American crocodile is protected as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and it is illegal to hunt them in south Florida, the only place they are found in the US.⁸

The American alligator on the other hand is considered one of the great success stories of the Endangered Species Act. In 1967, it was listed as endangered due to unregulated hunting and habitat loss. Now, they are considered to be fully recovered at an estimated population of five million⁹ and can be found throughout the southeastern region of the US, from Florida to Texas and as far north as North Carolina. 

Although recovered, the trade in American alligators is still monitored by the government; they are listed on Appendix II under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) due to their similar appearance to other alligators and crocodiles that are listed as threatened or endangered with extinction.  

American alligators are intensively farmed in the US for the leather trade, with most farms located in Louisiana then Florida, plus some in Texas and a few other states. American alligator skin is the only “alligator” species allowed in the exotic skins trade and is the most plentiful of any crocodilian skin available for the leather market.¹⁰ 

To replenish their stocks, alligator farms can collect a certain number of wild alligator eggs and hunting is allowed throughout most of their native habitat but is subject to specific seasons and various state regulations. Louisiana has the largest number of farms and kills over 300,000 alligators each year, with the vast majority coming from farms. Between 1999 and 2008, over 2.5 million alligators were killed on farms in Louisiana and their skins valued at over $335 million.¹¹

How to Wear it Kind

The use of exotic leathers by luxury designers has perpetuated the idea that animals being used for fashion is desirable and aspirational. It’s time to end the glorification of wearing leather, be that from exotic animals or domesticated animals. Read more about the domestic leather.

The FOUR PAWS Wear It Kind campaign is catalyzing a movement of people, brands and designers, all working together to ensure no animal faces cruelty for the sake of fashion. We express ourselves through what we wear, and we can all show our kindness to animals through our clothing choices.

Join the movement, and take the pledge to Wear It Kind today, pledging never to buy or wear any exotic leather.