Reptile Trade from Mexico (REPTILE)

          CASE NUMBER:         98 
          CASE NAME:          Reptile Trade from Mexico

1.         The Issue
     The importation and exportation of certain reptile skins is a
very extensive, yet illicit industry.  The illegal skins trade in
Mexico represents millions of dollars annually on the black market. 
The United States and 114 other countries have signed the CITES
treaty implementing the ban on reptile skins and furs from
endangered species, the enforcement of these bans however, is
extremely difficult.  Approximately 20 percent imported goods
brought into the United States are inspected by the U.S. Customs
Service.  The percentage is much smaller in most other countries,
such as Kenya or Brazil.  Park rangers in Africa many times ignore,
for a price, local poachers and  Brazilian export inspectors often
do not examine many skins slated for export.  In some
circumstances, goods are carried across borders by immigrants paid
by smugglers.  The current question in this case is whether there
is a way to better enforce the treaty and minimize the ban's
2.        Description
     The world "has an apparently inexhaustible appetite for live
wild animals and for the skin and meat of dead ones.  The   illegal
trade tries to satisfy that appetite with the most endangered
plants and animals."  This problem is not a regional problem;
ultimately it is a universal one.  Illegal, black market  trading
continues all over the world in ivory, elephant feet and walrus
skin.  The problem with reptile skins is one that is quickly
becoming epidemic.  Currently, reptiles are traded both dead and
alive.  The live creatures are usually killed, then utilized as
medicine or eaten as a delicacy in regions such as Eastern Asia. 
The reptile skins are valuable as purses, shoes, and other leather
products in the United States or other Western nations.  The
massive world trade in reptiles and amphibians threatens to "drive
some species to extinction.  Biologists are now trying to protect
the animals in the wild while still supplying the market."
     The figures in illegal international wildlife trade are
expectedly difficult to estimate.  Ginette Hemley, director of
TRAFFIC USA, contends that it is impossible to estimate the
composition of animals which represent the largest share of those
animals illegally traded.   While precise values are impossible,
some estimations are possible, in 1971 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service had over 20,000 known poachers of American alligators
listed in their books. One smuggler alone had smuggled over 127,000
illegal alligator skins.  It is now suspected that at least a
million skins of South American caiman (a cousin to the American
alligator) are exported every year. These skins alone can earn
anywhere from $5 to $8 billion dollars annually. But because there
is so little information about their wild populations, it is
difficult to judge how the trade is affecting the populations at
     The world became aware of the dangers of the wildlife trade in
the early 1970s when many environmentalists were struck by the
revelation that the many wildlife species was dying off at an
incredibly rapid pace.  At that time, 115 countries came together
to sign the CITES treaty.  CITES, or the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species of World Fauna and Flora,
protects or governs the trade of animals and plants that are
considered endangered (such as the Brazilian Spectacled Caiman.)
     While the CITES treaty was, and still is, a noble idea there
is very little that can be done to enforce the treaty.  There are
several intrinsic weaknesses in the treaty.  In many countries
selectively decide which bans to enforce and which to ignore, with
culture often playing a very real role in these decisions.  Taiwan
decided not to join CITES and imports of endangered reptiles
     Additionally, the treaty also has what is called a limitation
factor.  It states that countries can export endangered animals if
they can find a buyer for them.  This loophole severely weakens the
entire structure of the treaty, it also does not provide for
habitat protection.  Ann Misch notes that this type of protection
of the wildlife is futile, since the real problem is the loss of
their habitats. 
     Lack of knowledge on species wildlife is another problem when
enforcing these bans.  Custom officials often cannot recognize one
animal pelt from another, whether legally or illegally sought. 
Norman Boucher in his article in The Atlantic states this very same
case succinctly:
     Imagine a wildlife inspector for the Port of New York,
     then faced with one of the 1,100 yearly shipments of
     spectacled-caiman skins and products.  He must find the 
     time to examine the spectacled-caiman shipment
     thoroughly.  He must be able to tell the difference
     between an American-alligator handbag and a spectacled-
     caiman handbag.  He must know the range of the spectacled
     caiman and verify that the animals exists in the country
     whose name appears on the export documents in his hand. 
     He must know the wildlife laws of that country well
     enough to tell whether or not they allow the export of
     spectacled caiman.  He must be familiar enough with the
     Endangered Species Act to know that two subspecies of the
     spectacled caiman cannot be imported.  Finally, he must
     be able to tell a handbag made of one subspecies of
     spectacled caiman from a handbag made from another
     subspecies of spectacled caiman.
     To make matters worse, many times import and export bans are
not enforced by local authorities.  The lack of local enforcement
of the ban does not help the animals.  Ginette Hemley estimates
"that roughly 30 percent of the total value of the world's wildlife
trade is made up of illegal goods moving in violation of CITES and
national laws."  Because the United States is the largest
consumer of plants and animals, the illegal skins easily disappear
into the market and trade stores.  Hemley continues that it is
"easy to blend illegal goods with legal shipments of reptile
products and live birds."  Because of culture, lack of knowledge,
legal loopholes, and poor enforcement it is difficult to protect
these animals (see BIRDS case)
where similar conditions and problems are encountered.
     Finally, drug traffickers also use animals and animal pelt
trade.  Because customs inspections are rare for animal products,
many drug smugglers bring in their goods with the animals.  Many
times the reptiles and amphibians are actually fed the drugs in
small packets, and then killed after the shipment has made it
through customs.  This provides these two goods with heavy demands
-- drugs and the animal skin. 
3.        Related Cases
     Keyword Clusters         
     (1): Species                  =    REPTiles 
     (2): Bio-geography            =    TROPical
     (3): Environmental Problem    =    Species Loss Land (SPLL)
4.        Draft Author: Stephanie L. Turner
B.        Legal Cluster
5.        Discourse and Status: AGREEMENT and COMPlete
6.        Forum and Scope: MEXICO and USA
7.        Decision Breadth: Over 100
8.        Legal Standing: TREATY
C.        Geography Clusters
9.        Geographic Locations
     a.   Geographic Domain : North America [NAMER]
     b.   Geographic Site   : Southern North America [SNAMER]
     c.   Geographic Impact : MEXICO
10.       Sub-National Factors: NO
11.       Habitat Type: DRY
D.        TRADE Clusters
12.       Type of Measure:
13.       Direct vs. Indirect Impacts:  DIRect
14.       Relation of Measure to Environmental Impact
     a.  Directly Related     : YES  REPTile
     b.  Indirectly Related   : YES  TEXTAPP
     c.  Not Related:         : NO
     d.  Process Related      : YES  Species Loss Land [SPLL]
15.       Trade Product Identification: SKINs
     The impact on the environment is directly related to the
product, in this case a lizard or reptile.
16.       Economic Data
     "On the market, a scrub python can be sold for as much as
     $10,000.  Worldwide, the trade in reptiles and
     amphibians--dead and alive is now worth hundreds  of
     millions of pounds a year....According to a recent report
     by the TRAFFIC Network...nearly 10 million reptiles are
     killed legally every year for their skins....The value of
     the declared imports of reptile skins into the European
     Union, the United States and Japan adds up to $150
     million a year...the United States alone imports finished
     products made from reptile skins worth about $257 million
     a year."
     According to CITES, Mexico also imported 206,461 reptile skins
in 1990, but reported no exports.  The majority of Mexico's
imports are apparently from Argentina, Colombia, and Venezuela.
17.       Impact of Measure on Trade Competitiveness: LOW
     The price of snake skins and other reptilian                
products is directly related to the availability of the skins.  If
the skins are not available, the smugglers can ask and receive more
for the skins. 
18.       Industry Sector: Textile/Apparel [TEXTAPP]
19.       Importers and Exporters: USA and MEXICO
E.        Environmental Cluster
20.       Environmental Problem Type: Species Loss Land [SPLL]
21.  Name, Type, and Diversity of Species 
     Name:          Reptiles (Pythons, Caiman)
     Type:          Animal/Reptiles
     Diversity:     717 reptile species (Mexico)
22.       Resource Impact and Effect: HIGH and REGULatory
23.       Urgency and Lifetime: MEDIUM and NA
24.       Substitutes: LIKE
     Producers can use "faux skin" for fashion purposes (this is
similar to the ECFURBAN case).
F.        Other Factors
25.       Culture: YES
     Many cultures consider parts of reptiles to be delicacies to
be eaten.  This is the major reason Taiwan did no sign CITES -- its
desire to continue to eat the meat from the animals.  In Taipei the
infamous Snake Alley is a part of town where shops sell snake meat
as well as potions mixed with wine and the bile from the just-
killed snake bladder and the blood from its heart.  Other countries
such as China see snakes as valuable for medicinal purposes.
26.       Trans-Border: YES
27.       Human Rights: NO    
28.       Relevant Literature
Boucher, Norman. "The Wildlife Trade: Smuggling of Endangered 
     Species." The Atlantic 251, March, 1983, 10.
Dayton, Leigh. "A Lizard in the Bush...Protection of Reptiles and
     Amphibians from Extinction." New Scientist 141/1910, January
     29, 1994, 12.
Misch, Ann. "Can Wildlife Traffic Be Stopped?" World Watch 5
     September/October, 1992, 26-33.
Reisner, Marc. "Gator Trade." Common Cause 17/4 July/August
     1991, 33-38.
Schaller, George B. "Illegal Trade in Tibet." Wildlife
     Conservation 96/3. 


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