Reptile skins are in fashion. A nice snakeskin watchband or perhaps a neat pair of shoes would do the trick. The big international fashion houses like Gucci or LVMH can't keep reptile skin leatherwear in stock. But these fashion houses have little interest and even less control over the supply chain, which usually begins in Indonesia or Vietnam. There pythons are captured for their skins. The procedure isn't pretty. The living snake is stretched by having water forced into its body so the skin is smooth and even. After several hours, the snake skin is split with a razor and pulled off the snake's body. The meat, often still alive, is thrown onto a pile to be sold off as the raw ingredient for Chinese medicine.
CITES provisions supposedly apply to the export of snakeskin, even when the species is not endangered, with the aim of human treatment in the harvesting of skins and to maintain stable populations. In all cases, an export license is required under the treaty. In point of fact, however, licenses are almost never requested or issued. Instead, snakeskins are sent from Indonesia to Singapore, from whence they are reexported to Malaysia in bulk, marked as of Malaysian origin. But CITES has few teeth with which to enforce its provisions. And the trade is truly global. The world's largest importer of snake skins is Switzerland, which uses the product for watch bands. Switzerland, of course, is a staunch supporter of CITES, but support in the diplomatic arena unfortunately does not often translate into effective controls on the ground.
Karl Ammann is a Swiss-born naturalist and filmmaker, living in Kenya. He has produced a wide range of documentary films exposing environmental crimes of many sorts, from the illegal hunting of wild tigers to meet the demands of Chinese medicine, to the luncheon trade in endangered species in Myanmar attracting nouveau-riche Chinese from across the border with a taste for an exotic lunch, to Japan's apparent insistence on harvesting each and every Atlantic bluefin tuna, driving the species to extinction. He has also been a passionate opponent of the African trade in bushmeat - that from the great apes. He has also published several highly-regarded books on the environment and the trade in endangered species.
Karl was named SAB Environmental Journalist of the Year for his film exposing the complicity of the Egyptian government in the trade in endangered species to fuel the demand from wealthy Middle Eastern wildlife collectors. He was also chosen in 2008 as the winner of the Bridget Bardot International Genesis Award, presented at the 22nd annual Genesis Awards in 2008.
This is Karl's second visit to the FCCT. If you missed him the first time a year or so ago, don't miss out this time - he is an engaging speaker and one the world's most knowledgeable experts on environmental crime and the illegal trade in endangered species.
Foreign Correspondents' Club of
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