By Jenni Avins
Kering, the parent company of luxury brands including Gucci, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, and Alexander McQueen, has teamed up with the International Trade Centre (ITC)—a joint agency of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations—to launch a program to monitor and manage the trade of Nile crocodiles from Madagascar.
The company has an interest in the animals’ hides, which end up as high-end handbags, belts, wallets, and shoes. Africa’s biggest crocodilians, Nile crocodiles can grow to weigh over 1,500 pounds and reach close to 20 feet in length—a valuable hide for manufacturers, to be sure.
In 2010, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) placed a moratorium on the Nile crocodile trade from Madagascar, after a study showed both crocodile farms and wild population numbers to be insufficiently monitored.
That ban has since been lifted, creating an opportunity for the ITC and Kering to research and maintain what will hopefully be a better-managed, more sustainable trade in Nile crocodile skins from Madagascar.
Partly, it’s a matter of balancing conservation with the economic opportunity the reptiles offer locals. For many people in impoverished areas of Madagascar, collecting and selling the wild crocodiles’ eggs provides important income. “It’s about training them, and ensuring there are still crocs there, that they don’t empty a whole area of eggs, so that there’s no reproduction,” said Hetland. “We’ll be doing regular training programs, and what we usually do is hire local consultants to do the work on the ground, to make sure management is going the way it should be.” Additionally, the organization will gather data about how many animals are captured and how many eggs collected, as well as research on both farmed and wild populations.
The collaboration shows an inclination toward investment all the way up the supply chain on the part of luxury brands, where crocodiles provide one of the fashion industry’s most valuable materials. In February of 2013, Kering’s competitor LVMH purchased an Australian crocodile farm for $2.5 million. Soon after, Kering bought a leather tannery in Normandy, France which specializes in securing and processing crocodile hides.