Editor’s note: This is a guest post from PETA by their Fashion Campaign Coordinator Christina Sewell.
The recent announcement by Kering — the parent company of fashion brands Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Gucci, and others — that it is teaming up with the International Trade Centre to manage a “sustainable trade” in Nile crocodiles from Madagascar should make any caring consumer’s skin crawl. Why? As the blog Jezebel noted, “Kering isn’t doing this out of the kindness of its corporate heart.” The company wants to make sure that there’s a steady supply of crocodiles to breed and kill for overpriced purses and shoes. The production of a single handbag may use the skins of four crocodiles.
Reptiles are not walking accessories. Researchers have found points along the jaws of alligators and crocodiles that are more sensitive to touch than human fingertips. This makes sense because mother alligators use their jaws as we might use our hands — to gently crack open their eggs and carry their babies. Alligators talk to one another through hisses, yelps, coughs, and other sounds, and crocodiles can recognize their names, as a pair of dwarf crocodiles at a facility in England has demonstrated. Female snakes separated at birth can recognize relatives if they are reintroduced years later.
No sentient being deserves to be killed for something as frivolous as fashion, but as Joaquin Phoenix illustrates in his video exposé of the exotic-skins industry, reptiles are killed in especially gruesome ways.
In this industry, lizards are usually killed by decapitation. Snakes are commonly skinned alive, in the belief that live flaying keeps the skins supple. Many animals writhe in agony as their skin is torn from their bodies. Workers sever crocodiles’ spinal cords using a mallet and chisel, which paralyzes but does not kill them. Alligators — who are often raised in crowded tanks or pools of fetid, stinking water — are shot or bludgeoned with hammers. As herpetologist Clifford Warwick says, “There is no scientific question as to whether alligators are capable of feeling pain and sensitivity to stress — they are.”
Few laws protect reptiles from such abuses, and those that do exist are often not enforced. Although crocodiles are covered by regulations of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, it is estimated that for every animal who is legally killed for the exotic-skins trade, another is illegally poached. In the U.S., reptiles are excluded from the meager protections afforded by the Animal Welfare Act.
No wonder so many consumers and top brands, including H&M, Topshop, and Victoria’s Secret, are turning their backs on this cruel trade. If Kering wants to remain a leader in the fashion industry, it should stop killing animals for cold-blooded profit. Animal-friendly shoppers can make a difference by always choosing fake snake, mock croc and other cruelty-free fashions.
About the author: Christina Sewell is a campaign coordinator for PETA. A native of Seoul, South Korea, she now lives in Los Angeles. When she’s not brainstorming creative ways to help animals, you can find her searching for a great live show, thrift store, yoga class or vegan noms.