Crocodile skin, particularly wild crocodile, is prized in the fashion world for its glossy, beautiful appearance and has transcended the often fickle styles and trends of the fashion world, epitomising ‘classic’ and ‘timeless’ fashion. Picture Kate Moss carrying the same crocodile clutch her mother carried back in the sixties. Crocodilians specimens are also traded as meat and hunting trophies.WalletCrocodile-4Crocodilians include all alligators, caimans, crocodiles, gavials and other members of the order Crocodylia. Crocodilians are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is an international agreement (to which states adhere voluntarily) between governments to ‘ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival’.

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The species covered by CITES are listed under three appendixes. Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances. Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.

All crocodilian species have been included in CITES Appendix I or II in response to the decline in some wild populations as a result of unregulated international trade. A number of more common crocodilian species are included in Appendix II because they are so difficult to distinguish from more endangered species. As a result of CITES the majority of Crocodile leather comes from farmed and ranched (removing eggs form the wild to breed in captivity) sources. Whilst this is thought to have led to a turn-around in crocodlian populations after numbers plummeted in the 1960’s due to high levels of trade, it has also been argued that through removing traded crocodiles from their natural habitat and decreasing the need to hunt the wild crocodile, the economic incentive for conserving the wild crocodile and its habitat is reduced, or removed, alltogether.

James MacGregor argues that demand for wild harvested crocodilians is important in incentivising conservation. He concludes that: ‘in the crocodilian skin industry, or any industry founded on wild resources, is unwise to turn its back on the wild supply; wild crocodilian skins retain some advantages in today’s market—wild classic skins remain at the vanguard of the strategy of luxury brands.’

For several reasons one could argue that the recession might not impact demand for crocodile skin. This could be justified on the basis that:

  • Croc leather has a diverse and growing portfolio of markets and market segments and a continuing allure among customers.
  • Croc leather products are sold to wealthiest, well-established brands have no fear from crisis (as it exists today) owing to liquidity and relatively small cost. However this does account for small portion of the market. Think Beckham with her collection of $US2  million worth of Crocodile leather Hermes Birkin bags.
  • Accessories and ‘classic, timeless’ fashion pieces are increasingly being favoured, including exotic skin goods. The transfer of budget from other products to these could favour sales of croc products.

Despite these sensible assumptions, interviews with experts have revealed that the recession is undoubtedly taking its toll on the demand for wild crocodile skin – some tanneries, for example, have reported ‘no designer orders’ in the Q1 of 2009 and an significant increase in the downgrading and outright rejection of lower quality crocodile skin. Some industry participants are trying to postpone sales of wild skins to see if market conditions improve. For others, crocodile leather goods remain the ‘fastest-growing product line’ notably in the case of Hermes (who owns its own crocodile farms) claiming that “we cannot face demand. We have massive over-demand. We are limited by our ability to train new craftsmen.”

Co-existence in many countries of dangerous crocodiles and poor people has been made possible through provision of strong economic incentives to harvest sustainably. Indeed, many of the wild crocodile skins are produced under the strictest of regimes using sustainable use. Here, often poor hunters and communities are given opportunities to realise the benefits from these species who are often despised for the danger they present to human life. The changes brought about by the recession add fear that a collapse in orders owing to belt-tightening by the world’s elites will reduce their value in situ and reduce the incentives for co-existence. Closely monitoring the impacts of the recession will be key to ensuring conservation and livelihoods are not adversely affected.

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