No ‘crocodile tears’ for tanking skins trade

By Paula Moore

According to a recent USA Today article, the global economic downturn has taken a bite out of America’s alligator industry. With the sharp slump in sales of so-called “luxury” goods such as alligator bags and belts, fashion houses worldwide are placing fewer orders for exotic skins—and some American alligator farms are in danger of going belly-up as a result.

Let me be the first to say, “Good riddance.”

Alligators are bludgeoned with hammers and steel bars so that their skins can be turned into overpriced accessories. Snakes and lizards are skinned alive and left to die in agony. The routine cruelty in the exotic skins trade should make any caring consumer’s skin crawl, and the sooner this industry dies off, the better.

When PETA went undercover at an alligator farm in Florida, our investigator documented workers smashing alligators over the head with aluminum bats in a crude attempt to kill them. Many animals continued to writhe and move after they had supposedly been killed.

On other farms, according to Dr. Clifford Warwick, a specialist in reptile biology and welfare, alligators are shot or axed to death—or have a chisel smashed through their spinal cord with a hammer.

Many alligator and crocodile farms are “supplemented” with “animals who have been taken from the wild and put into conditions that are very unhygienic, very cramped, very crowded,” says Warwick. “It’s quite a sad, stressful life.”

Other reptiles fare no better. Lizards are decapitated and skinned. But because of their slow metabolism, they can stay alive for up to an hour after their heads are cut off—meaning that they are skinned alive.

Pythons are stunned—but not killed—with a blow to the head. Then hoses are inserted into their mouths and they are pumped full of water, which causes the snakes to swell up like balloons. This loosens the skin.

Workers then impale each snake’s head on a meat hook, rip the skin off and toss the animals’ peeled bodies onto a pile of other skinned snakes. After hours—or days—of unimaginable suffering, the snakes die from dehydration or shock.

“Snakes are never killed in a good way,” Dr. Warwick says.

More than a fifth of the world’s reptiles are now at risk for extinction—and the exotic skins trade is not helping. Most snakes are caught in the wild because it takes so long for farmed snakes to grow large enough for their skin to be usable. Dr. Mark Auliya, a scientific officer for TRAFFIC, an organization that helps monitor the international trade in wild animals, says that in Southeast Asia, some “large [snake] specimens are getting rarer and rarer.” The animals, he says, simply “cannot cope in the long term with the high out-take by the commercial skin trade.”

What’s more, for every reptile who goes through the system legally, it is estimated that another one will be smuggled. According to Dr. Warwick, virtually every store that sells exotic skins has some hand in this illicit trade, whether they are aware of it or not.

With so many choices available to us today, there’s no reason for designers to continue using real skins—and there’s no reason for consumers to buy them. Alligators, snakes and other animals should not have to suffer and die just for our coldblooded vanity.

Paula Moore is a research specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

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