The luxury goods industry's passion for python skins is putting pressure on wild python populations in southeast Asia and fuelling illegal hunting, according to a report by a conservation group and French luxury goods conglomerate Kering, but farming the snake genus could provide a sustainable solution.
Assessment of Python Breeding Farms Supplying the International High-end Leather Industry, released this week, found supplies of reticulated and Burmese python skins claiming to be from captive snakes should not be taken at face value and Laos was exporting large amounts of captive-bred python skins while having no registered python breeding farms in the country.
Kering, which turns €9 billion per year and is controlled by the Pinault family, joined with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to form the Python Conservation Partnership in order to assess the sustainability of the skins in its supply chain, according to chief sustainability officer Marie-Claire Daveu.
More than 500,000 python skins are exported from Asia annually, with Italy, France and Germany being the biggest importers.
Kering and the IUCN aim to quantify python farming capacity for southeast Asian countries, so it is clear when supplies of skins are in excess of what can realistically be farmed, indicating when skins have come from wild pythons.
According to the report, Python farming could reduce unsustainable hunting of wild pythons as long as wild pythons are not illegally "laundered" through farms.
Captive breeding also needs to be very carefully monitored, it added, because it could create a commercial incentive to hunt pythons to extinction so that supplies can only come from farmed stock.
The partnership also plans to develop techniques to allow buyers to differentiate between captive-bred and wild python skins.
Daveu said: "We will be proactive in addressing these recommendations, and in particular developing best practice guidelines in the Python Conservation Partnership for captive breeding farms and training suppliers we work with."
Many brands in Kering's stable use python skins, for example Gucci's recent collection of handbags, or Balenciaga's python skin running shoes.