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Exotic Skins – Farming and Conservation Work Together

 

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Trade in exotic skins has long been a controversial subject with much emotional debate on each side. Some people sustain that any form of use of animals for skins or meat is wrong, while others counter that well-managed farming and ranching actually helps conservation efforts and has a positive effect on wild populations.

At Gleni we support all the carefully drawn up regulations of CITES (Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species). We take great pains to ensure that all our skins come from regulated and well-managed producers that farm the animals sustainably and that each skin we import has full documentation and provenance. We are convinced that the production of the skins we use has a positive effect both on local economies and on the conservation efforts of the countries that they come from. We’d like to share some more information about faming and trade in exotic skins with you, so that you can make up your own mind.

The regulation of trade in exotic skins


The legal trade in exotic skins requires strict documentation at all stages of the process from export of the raw skins to the making and selling of the finished product. There are taxes and fees to be paid at each stage and this money goes to fund organizations that are actively involved in protecting many species of animals under threat of extinction. In this way funds are raised to fight illegal trade and the poaching of animals in the wild, to raise awareness among the public and to encourage more countries to enforce the regulations protecting threatened animals in the wild.

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It is true that the illegal trade in exotic skins threatens the environment and the survival of several species in countries that are poorly regulated.  We feel that the best way to combat this illegal trade is to abide scrupulously by all the CITES regulations ourselves and support its work, to refuse to deal with suppliers offering cheap but undocumented skins and by educating people where possible to beware of cut-price exotic skin products, which will almost certainly be the fruits of illegal trade. By conducting our business in an ethical manner we may make smaller profits, but we know that we are helping with conservation efforts throughout the world, making sure that animals in the wild are protected and bringing our customers products of the highest quality that have been produced with respect for the animal and the environment.

In conclusion, the farming of exotic skins, when properly managed, according to the CITES regulations, makes a huge contribution to the preservation of the habitat and so of the species itself. It provides employment and supports the economy of many areas that have few other resources to support them. It feeds millions of families and when well managed is no less humane than any other animal husbandry such as cattle and sheep farming. It is an unfortunate reality that in our world humans are encroaching on the natural habitats of many animals and it is those animals that have an economic value to us that have more chance of surviving, simply because people have an incentive to conserve them.

 

Alligators in Louisiana, USA

The American alligator has been hunted in Louisiana for the last two hundred years. Hunting was banned in the Sixties when numbers fell and then gradually re-introduced with a limited 30 day season once numbers re-established themselves.

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Alligator farms and ranches were established in this period under tight regulations, whereby farmers have to return a certain percentage of hatchlings to the wild. This well-managed solution has made alligators a sustainable resource that contributes hugely to the economy of the state.

One of the main benefits to conservation has been the incentive to landowners to maintain the wetlands which are the natural habitat of the alligator. Thus many other species that share the wetlands with the alligator are also protected.

The alligator population is stable and numbers are even increasing because of the economic value of the alligator. If ever the trade in alligator skins were to be banned here, not only would the economy suffer, but so would the wild alligator population, as its habitat would be likely to be eroded by development.

 

Crocodiles in Australia and Asia

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Alligator farms and ranches were established in this period under tight regulations, whereby farmers have to return a certain percentage of hatchlings to the wild. This well-managed solution has made alligators a sustainable resource that contributes hugely to the economy of the state.

The saltwater and freshwater crocodile is farmed extensively in South Africa, Australia and Asia. The Australian example demonstrates how managed farming can protect and even re-establish numbers in the wild and ensure the survival of the species.

Until 1972 crocodiles were hunted in Australia without regulation, some for their skins, but others killed through man’s fear of the reptile. Any crocodile venturing into settled areas was likely to be shot for fear of it killing people or livestock. Once the ban on hunting was in place the numbers quickly recovered. Crocodile farms were established and conservation programs set in place, aiming to protect the habitat of the crocodile and educate people.

The value of the crocodile skins is an important factor in persuading landowners and the public to put up with the crocodile, which is seen as a danger to people and farm animals in the wild. Sustainable use programs whereby eggs are harvested and sold to crocodile farms provide an incentive to preserve the natural habitat. The shrinkage of habitat is now the most serious threat to the wild crocodile population and it is hoped that these programs will keep numbers stable both in the wild and in the farms.

The illegal hunting of crocodiles still persists in less well regulated countries, but the availability of crocodile skins from managed farm programs throughout the world takes the pressure off these wild populations. A total ban on legal trade would be likely to result in far more illegal poaching and sky rocketing prices that would almost certainly result in the extinction of wild populations.

 

Ostriches in South Africa

alligator-skin
Alligator farms and ranches were established in this period under tight regulations, whereby farmers have to return a certain percentage of hatchlings to the wild. This well-managed solution has made alligators a sustainable resource that contributes hugely to the economy of the state.

Ostriches have been domesticated and farmed in South Africa for more than 150 years. They are a desert animal needing a dry warm climate and the Karoo area of the Western Cape provides an ideal farming environment for them. Spacious fields in a dry, dusty landscape are home to flocks of ostrich, raised not just for their skins but also for their feathers and their nutritious and lean meat.

Ensuring the well-being of the birds is vital to successful farming, as any disease or parasite damage reduces the value of their skins and meat. Like chickens and other farmed birds they are susceptible to avian flu, so the flocks are well looked after and well-fed to keep them as healthy as possible.

Ostrich farming provides at least 30% of the employment in this poor rural area of South Africa, which has high unemployment. It is a vital part of the local economy. A greater emphasis is now being placed on protecting the environment and sustainable farming to ensure biodiversity and maintain the natural bush veld of the area.

Ironically the ostrich farming practices developed here have been key to the preservation of wild populations in other parts of Africa. The red-necked ostrich was near to extinction in the mountains of Niger in the 1990’s due to civil strife, when ostriches were being killed en masse to feed the starving population. They were pulled back from the brink of extinction by local villagers who caught twelve birds and bred them in captivity. They are now, with the help of conservationists, re-establishing the population in the wild. The knowledge of ostrich breeding and husbandry culled from experienced ostrich farmers helped make these endeavors successful.

 

Pythons in Asia

alligator-skin
Alligator farms and ranches were established in this period under tight regulations, whereby farmers have to return a certain percentage of hatchlings to the wild. This well-managed solution has made alligators a sustainable resource that contributes hugely to the economy of the state.

It’s harder to find accurate information about python farming in Asia. Indonesia has many established and reputable farms that are governed by the CITES regulations, but there are also less scrupulous farms that seem to be just a cover for snake harvesting from the wild. The Indonesian government has called in international help to stamp out illegal trade, asking for expert advice from the WWD and other conservation organizations to monitor farms and the exports at airports. They consider the best way to protect the wild populations is to make sure that sustainable farming is practiced.

Ultimately though it is down to the buyer to ensure that they buy their skins from one of the reputable farms that abide by the CITES regulations. Skins from farmed pythons are more expensive than ones caught in the wild, but they are of better quality as the snake has been kept in a protected environment and its skin is healthier and less likely to have been damaged.

The reticulated python is a resilient species that is not currently in any danger of extinction. It lays several large batches of eggs before it reaches a size to be harvested from the wild, ensuring the survival of the species, but illegal harvesting does result in environmental problems for the local communities: the python is the chief predator on the rat population and poor communities can find themselves overwhelmed by rats if the snake population is reduced. The python business does contribute much to the local economy in a very poor area, but this is much better when managed in a sustainable way through proper python farming.

 

 

 

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