Killing Of Reptiles For Their Skins: Which Species Are Most Affected?

Synthetic material designed to mimic snake skin.
Synthetic material designed to mimic snake skin.

Reptiles whose skins are in high demand include Pythons, Caimans, Rat Snakes, and Monitor Lizards. Reptiles’ skin is used to make luxury items such as bags, watch straps, belts, boots, and wallets. Increased demand for luxury items, fueled by a rising upper-middle class population in Europe, has caused to more hunting and killing of reptiles. In other parts, some reptiles are reared in deplorable conditions and always die, and their skins are harvested. Between 2005 and 2014, the most seizures of skins belonged to Pythons, Caiman, Rat Snake, Monitor Lizards, Tegu Lizards, Crocodiles, and Alligators, as well as others in smaller numbers.

Killing Of Reptiles For Their Skin: Which Reptiles Are Most Affected?


Pythons are known for their intricately patterned skin and composed of 50% of the total reptile skin seizure between 2005 and 2014. Some pythons are bred for sale, but most of them are hunted out in the wild. South East Asia is a hot spot for the python smuggling market. The wild jungles of Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia are home to most pythons and villagers hunt them as a source of income.

The methods used to extract their skins might be considered as inhumane. Their heads will be nailed to a tree to facilitate the peeling off their skin. Others will be held down and their heads cut off with the aid of a machete. Snakes have a slow metabolism and will likely remain alive for a while as they are mutilated. Other snakes will be beaten to death. Sometimes snakes are inflated by compressors or forced a tube down their throats to pump in water to make the skin easier to extract.

Once their skin is removed, it is dried and treated before they are shipped off to satiate demand in the fashion industry. Most of the pythons hunted down are not yet in their reproductive age, and thus pythons have become an endangered species. The trade of python skin is poorly regulated making it hard to trace buyers and sellers. In Indonesia, the illegal industry employs many people as catchers, skinners, and international trade agents.


The Caiman accounted for 19% of the reptile skin seizures. Species of the Caiman are common in Central and South America. The species are part of the larger Crocodile Family. The skin of the Caiman produces leather items and garments. Continuous hunting of the Caiman has driven some of its species nearly to extinction such as the Black Caiman. Hunting of the Black Caiman was widespread between 1950 and 1970 when the demand for leather items was at a climax. When the Black Caiman population dwindled, poachers turned to hunting other species of the Caiman and the trend goes on to this today. Poaching takes place in protected areas, and their skins extracted on the spot.

The concept of farming reptiles also emerged in attempts to supply the increasing demand for reptiles’ skin. Caimans breeding in ranches and farms are in deplorable conditions where they are huddled together in murky waters. They are killed before they mature, and their skins extracted for treatment and sale.

Rat Snakes

Rat snakes skin seized accounted for 15% of the total reptile seizures. There are many species of Rat Snake and have notable differences in colors, scales, and patterns. Some Rat Snakes are bred in farms while the majority is hunted in their natural habitat. The most endangered species of the Rat Snake is the Oriental Rat Snake found in Indonesia. Prolonged hunting for its skin has driven its numbers to near extinction. Rat snakes are captured and skinned alive so as not to destroy their skin. The mutilated snakes are then thrown into a pile and left to die slowly.Illegal networks for Rat snake’s skin exist in Asia and particularly in Indonesia.

Monitor Lizards

Monitor lizards account for 7% of the total reptile skin seizure in the world between 2005 and 2014. Monitor lizards are intelligent and exotic reptiles with diversified species, especially in Southeast Asia.When poaching the reptile, its limbs are first broken to render it immobile and then it is killed by cutting off its head. The skin is then slowly cut off. Their skins are in high demand because they are unusual and rare.

Many species of Monitor lizards have not been documented or discovered, and this makes it hard to control illegal hunting. Most of the monitor lizards hunted are in the wild. The reptile is legally exported in Indonesia. However, lack of export quota encourages illegal hunting. There exist many networks which illegally trade Monitor lizards’ skins in countries such as India and Indonesia.

Protecting Reptiles Hunted for their Skins

Other endangered reptiles whose skins have been seized and the proportion of total seizures include Tegu Lizards, which accounted for 3% of all seizures, followed by Crocodiles (1%), Alligators (1%), and other reptiles (4%). The global trade in reptile skin has necessitated laws at the global and national levels to prevent the extinction of some of these animals. Regulations set by the International Trade in Endangered species are often not effective due to the non-cooperation of individual governments. Some countries have however set laws in place to control the poaching of reptiles. India has The Wildlife Protection Act enacted in 1972 to protect wild animals from poaching. Despite the laws to protect wild animals in Indonesia, corruption makes them hardly effective and enables networks of illegal reptile skin traders to flourish in the country. Europe is the largest importer of reptile skins and bodies have been set up by the European Union (EU) countries to curb the illegal and lucrative trade.

Killing Of Reptiles For Their Skin: Which Reptiles Are Most Affected?

RankReptileShare of total reptile skin seizures (2005-2014)
3Rat Snake15%
4Monitor Lizards7%
5Tegu Lizards3%

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