Fashion Houses Driving Crocodile Cruelty

The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men ~ Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

We’ve come a long way in 500 years since Da Vinci forecasted what we all know to be true. Thanks to an evolving and informed society, animals are slowly becoming our equals as humans begin to take responsibility for the demise of animals’ natural habitats and in-turn their lives. 

Many animals are finally gaining our respect and our protection but for every win – an avoided poach, a wild animal release or a bear transported from a bile farm hell to a safe sanctuary – many animals still remain a lucrative commodity. 

Beyond food farming (which is another discussion entirely), it’s time to rethink how we use animals for non-essential items. Today I’m talking about leather and I’m saddened to highlight a story happening in my own country, Australia. The horrific living conditions and eventual murder that our “protected” saltwater crocodiles are being subjected to all in the name of fashion. 

Luxury fashion houses Hermès and Louis Vuitton own or manage the majority of crocodile farms in the Northern Territory.

And in recent news, Hermés is planning to build one of the largest crocodile farms in Australia. The facility plans to farm more than 50,000 saltwater crocodiles for their exotic skins, which will be exported and used to make the brand’s luxury handbags and shoes.

World Animal Protection has found that there are an estimated 135,000 farmed crocodiles in the Northern Territory. This number exceeds the Northern Territory’s estimated wild population of approximately 100,000. Australia currently accounts for 60% of the global trade in saltwater crocodile skins, with two thirds of that produced in the Northern Territory.

The ABC writes that if the farm goes ahead, it will increase the number of farmed crocodiles in the Northern Territory by 50 per cent. 

Recent footage featured on Kindness Project and obtained by the Farm Transparency Project is extremely distressing and shows the dire living conditions of crocodiles who are cramped while young and then generally isolated until their painful and unnecessary death. 

The footage quickly slams any suggestion that crocodile farms are designed to increase populations and support conservation. 

Raising a “healthy” crocodile on these farms has nothing to do about nature and everything to do about the end quality of the handbag. 

World Animal Protection have detailed the horrific way that crocodiles are housed (or stored if we’re honest) in what are “small, plastic-lined barren pens where they will meet their cruel fate in approximately three years while in the wild they can reside peacefully for up to 70 years.” 

“Crocodiles are electrocuted to immobilise them before travel or slaughter. The charge is given on the back of the neck for 4-6 seconds through a pole with a set of metal prongs on the end, before the back of the neck is cut and the brain is pierced.”

And when it comes to production, the Kindness Project has found that “Hermès luxury products are created for the richest 1% in the world… they are undoubtedly viewed as status symbols, only to be afforded by the richest within society. It takes three to four crocodiles to create a Hermès bag.”

Instead, this farm uses an archaic method which is neither luxurious or stylish and something like The Hermés Birkin, a cult bag, has never looked so cruel and unappealing. 

But the wheels are in motion and thankfully there are animal welfare organisations like World Animal Protection and the Kindness Project standing up for crocodiles in a movement called #dropcroc where we can first reach out to Hermés through their social channels and ask them to stop using crocodile skin and recognise that crocodiles need to reside in the wild where they belong. 

They are not a commodity for us to carry around or wear particularly at a time where so many vegan materials are on offer and other large fashion companies are leaving animal products such as leather, fur and silk behind.

From a local legislation point of view, World Animal Protection have revealed that the farm has been approved by the Northern Territory government however Hermès will also need to source a wildlife trade permit from the Australian Federal Government which would allow them to export the crocodile skins. This has not yet been granted. 

Head of Campaigns at World Animal Protection, Ben Pearson said:

“The crocodile farming industry is grotesque and inherently cruel, where wild animals are denied a wild life or the freedom to exhibit their natural behaviours. Crocodiles are wild animals, not handbags. They are sentient beings who don’t deserve to languish in plastic-lined pens for the profits of French fashion houses.

“We are calling on the Minister for Environment, Sussan Ley, to stop the expansion of this cruel and barbaric industry, by rejecting an export permit for the Hermès crocodile farm. As

Environment Minister she has obligations to promote the humane treatment of wildlife. Crocodile farming is the exact opposite.”

Furthermore, a recent poll conducted by World Animal Protection found that Aussies were largely unaware of the cruel industry with 74% of people not aware how the crocs are farmed and killed for their skin. 

Minister Sussan Ley has responded to a letter from the groups but didn’t make it clear whether she intends to grant export permits if Hermés applies for them. However, The Minister is keen on reviewing what is an outdated Code of Practice. 

It can also be settled that she does think this is a cruel practice as per her comments in a 2020 Sydney Morning Herald article where she said “people need to stop and think about the ethical choices they make when choosing what to wear or carry.”

“I would never lecture anyone on what they should wear or what they should eat, however there are, I think, some lines, which as society we are starting to decide it’s best not to cross. 

The Minister is right in the fact that consumers have the power to drive change and avoid products of this nature although she also has the power to remove a purchasing decision that shouldn’t be on offer in the first place. She can acknowledge animal welfare – crocodile welfare – and stop this permit in its tracks. 

Like many of us, I hope she’s just as horrified at what The Code of Practice deems acceptable of crocodile farming. 

I did read one line that triggered me in the code which said that farms “must provide the animal with optimum conditions for its physiological functions.”

It’s hard to be your optimum self when you’re in an artificial and stressful environment.

Now Crocodiles have been referred to as sentient and perceptive reptiles who have a right to their wild environment and the ability to live through their natural, emotional behaviours. 

Voiceless founder, Ondine Sherman discusses “sentience” in her book, Vegan Living. She writes, “The psychological wall we have built allows us to make laws and create mega-industries that differentiate us from animals, and farmed animals from pets. We categorise animals according to species, economic value and use, rather than their capacity to suffer.”

The RSPCA also voices their welfare concerns when it comes to animal farming stating that “subjecting wild animals to intensive captive environments for commercial purposes poses many welfare risks including injury, pain, disease and lack of opportunity to exercise and express natural behaviours.”

Furthermore the RSPCA revealed some statistics that crocodile hatchlings don’t usually have enough space on farms and have many more crocodiles in close proximity compared to the wild. They also experience stress from regular human disturbances and sometimes aggression due to these high densities which can result in pain and injury for young crocodiles.

“ One study showed that nearly 30% of hatchlings died within 10 months, with the major cause (72% of hatchlings dying) being failure to thrive due to affected animals refusing to eat and starving to death. This syndrome is not commonly seen in wild populations of crocodiles and is thought to be due to an inappropriate captive raising environment.”

So in an age of increased awareness and a desired move away from animal cruelty we can help these crocodiles enjoy a wild life they deserve.

You can reach out to Hermés via their social channels and tell them to #dropcroc. There is also a petition you can sign through World Animal Protection here and read their full report on this cruel industry. 

I want to finish on something that Damien Mander, the founder of the International Anti Poaching Foundation told me. 

Damien said he had a revelation and realised that by day, he would protect African animals and at night, he would put one on his plate to consume. He realised he was paying someone else to kill an animal barbarically in a way he was not willing to do. It was immoral. Damien is now a vegan and a fierce activist for the diet. 

So I ask, would a Hermés bag collector, a fashion influencer, a celebrity, you, me, be prepared to kill a crocodile using these methods just so we can wear it? 

Is a crocodile skin worth more as arm candy or footwear than the crocodile who actually needs it to survive?

Don’t we all want to live freely and safely?

We know better. It’s Time. #DROPCROC

Photos by Dean Sewell

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