Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Illegal python skins feed hunger for fashionable handbags and shoes

Python farms could be the antidote to the $1bn-a-year black market in these fashionable and expensive skins

The Guardian, Monday 31 March 2014 18.12 BST

Illegally traded python skins worth $1bn (£600m) are being imported into Europe every year as weak regulation fails to stop illicit traders capitalising on demand for the dramatically patterned leather.

Half a million skins are imported legally each year from south-east Asia, most of them destined for Italy, Germany and France, where they are made into designer handbags, shoes and belts.

Legal imports have grown from 350,000 skins valued at just €100m (£82.6m) in 2005 to $1bn today as Beyoncé, Johnny Depp's partner, Amber Heard, Khloé Kardashian and Tamara Ecclestone have jumped on the trend for the exotic handbags, which can sell for more than £4,000 each. But the black market in skins is thought to be worth about the same amount again, amid widespread circumventing of international agreements to limit the number of pythons taken from the wild. In its first report on how to improve the international trade and protect pythons, the Python Conservation Partnership, backed by the owner of Gucci – Kering – and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said python farms could be part of the answer.

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