Fashion’s Wild Animal Exploitation: The Case Of Saltwater Crocodiles
Saltwater crocodiles are an ancient reptile species, who have lived on the land now referred to as Australia for about 100 million years. To the indigenous Larrakia people, they are a sacred totem; the Australian Government recognizes these prehistoric creatures as sentient and a ‘critical part of aquatic ecosystems’, who hold ‘cultural value’ to Aboriginal people. Today, more saltwater crocodiles are confined to small barren cages than live in their natural habitat.
New investigative footage from the Farm Transparency Project, released in Kindness Project’s campaign #DropCroc, exposed the terrible conditions that crocodiles confined in Hermés’ Northern Australia factory-farms face. Here, crocodiles are killed – their brains scrambled – at only a few years old, despite a natural lifespan of about 70 years.
So how did we get here?
The History Of Saltwater Crocodiles
100 million years of saltwater crocodiles is difficult to comprehend. For reference, dinosaurs became extinct about 65 million years ago, Australia was invaded less than 300 years ago, and crocodiles were first farmed for slaughter less than 50 years ago.
Back before the 1970s, saltwater crocodiles, or Crocodylus porosus, were on the brink of extinction. Only 3,000 individuals were left in the Northern Territory of Australia where they once thrived, and the fashion of the time was to blame. These crocodiles – along with other native species – were nearly hunted to extinction for the sake of their skins. As a result, they were given full protection under the law.
Internationally, the saltwater crocodile is still a protected species. However, when industry fought for the right to factory-farm the species for their skins, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) moved crocodiles down in the ranks, from most endangered and in need of protection, to a lesser protection which afforded them safeguards from shooting in the wild, but not from commercialized confinement and slaughter. This all took place under false claims of ‘conservation.’
Both government and industry argued that the only way to protect crocodiles was to make them financially valuable by killing and skinning them. Of course, this argument only considers the ‘protection’ of crocodiles insofar as there should be many crocodiles alive and able to be killed. It does not account for the wellbeing of any individual.
Misleading Conservation Claims
Today, the crocodile slaughtering industry still claims that the existence of factory-farms has saved the species from extinction. However, with 100,000 crocodiles left in their natural habitat, and 185,000 crocodiles in confinement – not to mention plans for another Hermés-owned factory-farm holding another 50,000 crocodiles at any given time – it begs the question of whether this is really conservation.
Conservationist Chris Darwin, descendant of Charles Darwin, spoke to Collective Fashion Justice and Kindness Project in an interview where he stated that ‘this is an unacceptable way to treat any animal… the fact that [the industry has] the audacity to call this conservation, when really it’s just commerce, it seems ridiculous them saying it’s conservation’.
Despite industry and even government claims to the contrary, breeding and slaughtering animals who you seek to protect is not most people’s definition of conservation. We largely recognize this when proponents of the ‘trophy hunting’ industry claim lions and other vulnerable species benefit from the ‘sport.’ In this case, the ‘trophy’ is one worn over the shoulder — and it may not shock you to learn that the crocodile industry supports conventional ‘trophy hunting’, too.
Meanwhile, there are compassionate and effective methods of species conservation that are continuously overlooked. Legal protections were already benefiting crocodiles before the introduction of factory-farming, and non-intrusive eco-tourism which protects crocodiles’ natural habitat continues to benefit communities – both human and reptile. Furthermore, the existence of crocodiles out in the wild benefits the entire ecosystem. ‘Conservation’ which deprives crocodiles of any kind of natural life fails to recognize this, as well as the species’ great intelligence. Did you know that crocodiles have highly developed social lives, and strong maternal bonds?
Crocodile Confinement For Fashion Today
Despite their sentience and their environmental importance, bags made of crocodile skins sold by Hermés can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and bags from Louis Vuitton sell in the tens of thousands range. As many as three to four crocodiles are killed for just one Hermés bag, and people sit for years on waiting lists in order to buy them. Billionaires around the globe proudly show off their ‘Birkin’ bags as a sign of their wealth, with some even owning a closet full of Hermés bags, so financially valuable that the walk-in-wardrobe must have a finger-print lock entrance.
The factory-farming of these animals exists to benefit the wealthiest 1%, with devastating consequences for crocodiles. Crocodiles on these farms can legally be offered less space than the length of their own bodies. When living freely, however, they can travel over 10km at a time and even ‘surf’ currents to travel hundreds of kilometres over a matter of weeks.
The confinement of crocodiles for fashion is not exclusive to Australia, either. Across Asia and some parts of Africa, species are kept in dank concrete pens until they are slaughtered for fashion, too.
Fortunately, much of the fashion industry is recognizing the damage done by this industry, and the injustice of killing for a handbag. Today, luxury fashion brands like Chanel, Vivienne Westwood, Victoria Beckham, Jean Paul Gaultier and others have banned all exotic skins – protecting crocodiles, alligators, snakes, and lizards. InStyle Magazine has banned exotic skins from its pages, and Creatives4Change, led by fashion photographer Alexi Lubomirski, sees many models and actors committing never to wear reptile skins, as well as fur and feathers, too.
Innovative, Total Ethics Materials
Today, we can be inspired by nature without taking from it, and we can admire the beauty of animals without killing them for it. Vegan leather made from mangoes destined for landfill, as well as from cork trees which are harvested without being cut down, can both be embossed to mimic the texture of crocodile skin. Many other more ethical and sustainable alternative materials exist, with further innovation in the space booming, particularly in the field of mycelium-based materials.
There is no justification for the slaughter of any animal for fashion, with so many ‘circumfaunal’, total ethics materials available today that are not produced in slaughtering supply chains, and which have a lesser impact on the environment.
What We Can All Do For Crocodiles
We need to take action to protect saltwater crocodiles – to genuinely protect them, not exploit them for profit under the guise of conservation.
The #DropCroc campaign was created to help people take action to protect saltwater crocodiles – to genuinely protect them, not exploit them for profit under the guise of conservation.
At Kindness Project, people are encouraged to send an automated (or personalized) email to Hermés, asking them to end the use of crocodile skin. At World Animal Protection, letters to Australia’s Minister for Environment can be sent, in order to try halt the development of Hermés’ proposed additional factory-farm.
The plight of animals exploited for the sake of fashion is too often overlooked, especially when it comes to species like the saltwater crocodile, whose exploitation is lesser-known. As animal advocates, we have a real opportunity to make change for crocodiles, and we have a responsibility to. Please join us in protecting and liberating the saltwater crocodile from confinement and commodification.