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The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has released footage of reptiles being skinned alive in Indonesia in a bid to discredit the luxury leather industry. One of our Observers, who works at a crocodile farm in Australia, tells us what the industry standards ought to be.

PETA said its researchers visited more than a dozen farms across the archipelago throughout 2009 to collect evidence of animal cruelty. Earlier amateur footage showed farm workers brutally bludgeoning small reptiles. They subsequently remove the lizards’ skins without any preliminary check for vital signs.

PETA has singled out French luxury goods group Hermes for using exotic skins produced in rural Indonesian areas, where animal protection laws are difficult to enforce. Reptile skins are widely used by the entire leather industry but Hermes came under the spotlight last year when its CEO told the Reuters news agency his business was facing a shortage of crocodile skins to produce 3,000 bags per year. According to Hermes CEO Patrick Thomas, it routinely takes three to four crocodiles to produce a single bag, which can fetch over 35,000 euros.

Amateur footage released by PETA showing farm workers brutally bludgeoning reptiles (WARNING: graphic footage)

Feeding time at the Crocodylus Park

Picture posted on Flickr by a.rutherford1

A Hermes Birkin crocodile bag worth $26,999

Picture posted on the website

PETA's latest campaign video against exotic-skins business in Indonesia (WARNING: graphic footage)

"If you were caught doing that in Australia, you could be jailed!"

Charlie Manolis is chief scientist at Wildlife Management International, an organisation that operates the Crocodylus Park in Australia’s Northern Territory.

If you were caught doing that here, you could be jailed! We have a strict code of practice and very tight regulations in Australia. All animals are shot in the back of the head and we stick a piece of wire into their brain to make sure they’re dead. It’s really important to put the crocodiles to sleep properly because their meat is also sold for human consumption at restaurants and supermarkets.

People who’ve watched footage of twitching reptile organs accuse our industry of skinning animals alive but this criticism is completely unfounded. Reptiles have a metabolism different from humans and their organs can show signs of activity long after they’re dead. On some rare occasions, I have seen some twitching even 24 hours after the animal was killed… The crocodile was dead, dead, dead, but when you cut it open, the heart inside was still feebly twitching!

Because the skin is so precious, you really don’t want to put a knife into a twitching crocodile. This is why we leave the crocodile in a chiller overnight before cutting it open. The belly skin is the most precious part because of its patterns and textures; it’s really the crème de la crème. Crocodile farms here sell to all the top leather product producers: Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Hermes… But it’s not a business where one can get rich quickly. Our operating costs are exceptionally high because crocodiles eat only meat… A lot of meat: 40% to 50% of our budget is food!

The exact price of the belly skins is a business secret but it varies between $500 and $1000 per skin depending on size and quality. In Australia, we sell the skin, the meat, and we also use the crocodiles’ teeth to make jewellery. But in Asia, they would use every part of a crocodile. Even bones, organs, and blood are processed for their traditional medicines. In Thailand for instance you can find energy tablets made of crocodile blood - it’s a popular traditional medicine authorised by the sanitary authorities".