By Tomás Waller
Every year milllions of reptile skins are traded, but illegal activity and a lack of transparency has led to poor management and poor animal welfare standards.
The Python Conservation Partnership (PCP) was launched last week by the IUCN/SSC Boa & Python Specialist Group (BPSG), the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the multi-brand group Kering (owner of Gucci, among others). The initiative aims to contribute to the conservation of two of the world's largest snakes; the Reticulated and Burmese pythons.
Over the next three years the BPSG will conduct research and analysis, and provide recommendations on sustainability, transparency, animal welfare and local livelihoods related to the python skin trade worldwide.
But why is this important? Well, let's put this trade into context. Each year, several million reptile skins are traded internationally, half a million of which are from pythons in South East Asia. The primary use of these skins is for luxury leather goods (handbags, shoes) and traditional musical instruments in China, however the meat and gall bladder is also utilised in South East Asia for traditional medicine. Combined, these uses have resulted in increased pressure on python populations.
The trade in pythons is regulated internationally by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and is consequently subjected to controls at the exporting and importing level. However, this has not been enough to guarantee trust in a growing trade, which according to a recent study by the ITC, the Trade in Southeast Asian Python Skins (PDF), involves not less than six countries of the region, hundreds of thousands of hunters and generates about $1bn per year. Despite being a significant industry in its own right, circulation of images and video from python slaughterhouses via the internet has once again thrust this trade into the spotlight.
Despite the increased attention, concerns surrounding this trade are not new. During the 1990s there were warning signs that trade in pythons could negatively impact the conservation of some species. Scientific studies were carried out, reports and recommendations were issued, but little or nothing was actually accomplished. Commitment from the industry was haphazard. Only regional associations participated in the initiative - but none of the major brands followed - and the trade went on with no visible improvements or innovations. This is where the PCP initiative aims to remedy that situation. More....