A Golden Jubilee
Tracing back to fifty years ago a Red List was published by the world's oldest and most important environmental organisation, the International Union of the Conservation of Nature. Protecting the building blocks of our ecosystems, the IUCN Red List pinpoints those animals and plants that are facing extinction. The List draws our world's most comprehensive catalogue, a powerful tool for global actors on how we can act together to conserve our world's biodiversity and protect our natural resources.
Today Kering has joined the IUCN to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the IUCN Red List with an event held in Paris. To get to grips with the role of businesses in conservation and biodiversity, Dr. Helen Crowley talks us through the example of the python trade.
"Although the python skin trade is about 80 years old, demand has shot up in the last 20 years as it has become le dernier cri in high fashion, thanks to its striking patterning. The biggest importers of the precious skin are Italy, Germany and France, where it’s used to make handbags, shoes and belts. These are then sold around the world, increasingly to Asian customers where sales have risen by 25% in the last ten years.
Now almost 500,000 skins are exported from south-east Asia every year; the total value is estimated in multi-millions of dollars and, worryingly, similar amounts in illegal trade. And therein lies the rub.
We can see the benefits the python skin trade can deliver to local livelihoods and national economies – it has great potential to be a positive. Yet consumption has clearly outstripped the ability to manage and regulate the industry. We are only now beginning to catch up. There’s a need for greater transparency or better ‘traceability’, the assurance of sustainability and the conservation of pythons in the wild. But what does sustainable python looks like, and how we can help this skin trade as a whole, to ensure it is sustainable and has a positive impact? To make things more difficult, the snake is used as food, in medicine and to make traditional Chinese musical instruments, as well as fashion accessories. It’s not just about the luxury industry’s supply chain: a rising tide floats all boats.
We believe there are four big questions we need to know the answers to, in order to build sustainable trade. First, is wild-caught python sustainable? For example what monitoring systems can we put in place to ensure pythons that are harvested from the wild in places like Indonesia are done so in a manner that does not negatively impact the wild populations?
Second: is captive breeding viable – and not being used as a front for the ‘laundering’ of skins caught in the jungle? It takes at least a year for python, particularly the Burmese and Reticulated (or Giant) python species– among the largest snakes in the world, to reach adult length of three metres. Hence the temptation to capture it in the wild. As well as hunting, there is opportunistic capture for those who are poor and have few alternative sources of income. For example, despite large skin exports that say they are from ’captive sources’ from some countries such as Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia, there is slim evidence that python farming is taking place.
Third and regardless of the first two: are pythons being treated and killed humanely?
Lastly, is python sourcing a sustainable option for rural, usually poor, communities in the development of a country, as it seems to be? After all, such people often rely on various types of biodiversity (animals and plants) as a source of cash, medicine and food. The overall implication is that we can surely make the trade better and maximise the benefits in a manner that’s beneficial to all.
It's clear that a holistic approach is needed, and additional research is required to determine the benefit and impact on livelihoods, including the conservation of python in the wild. I look forward to the day when we are sure that all pythons are sustainably produced, humanely treated and they contribute to local livelihoods. Then we can all be satisfied with what we do – for python and people alike."