A Bad Boutique Law Shows Its SkinPosted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on October 15, 2014
This article was originally published in the Daily Journal.
On September 29, 2014, California made an unfortunate move away from meaningfully protecting endangered and threatened species when Governor Brown signed AB 2075 into law. AB 2075’s origins date back to 2006, when then-Governor Schwarzenegger rescinded California’s ban on selling alligator and crocodile parts until January 1, 2015. Schwarzenegger himself was known to wear alligator skin boots at the Capitol.
This year, just as the ban was about to be reinstituted, Assemblymember Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville) introduced AB 2075, a bill to further delay implementation of the ban until 2025. The purpose behind this legislation is purely commercial—an obvious pandering to Rodeo Drive retailers who want to continue profiting off of selling handbags, shoes, and other luxury items made from skins taken off the backs of exotic and endangered animals. The national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) joined the Humane Society of the United States and Turtle Island Restoration Network in opposing AB 2075 outright. But despite the best efforts of these organizations, the measure still passed, albeit with a final sunset period of five years instead of the ten initially proposed. So again, California’s ban on selling alligator and crocodile parts remains rescinded until January 1, 2020.
Pressure for AB 2075 came from the California Restaurant Association, Brooks Brothers, and numerous luxury goods retailers, among others who argued for “comprehensive luxury retail offerings,” “economic incentive,” and ability to “sell millions of dollars of handbags, wallets, watchbands and footwear to tourists and locals alike” “particularly in Beverly Hills.” Indeed, AB 2075 has been touted by retail trade groups as an important way to preserve their ability to continue selling whatever goods they please, regardless of the imperiled status of the animals whose skins went into making the opulent items. Such a targeted handout to commercial interests gives the impression that the State of California’s interest in protecting endangered and threatened species is inversely proportional to the profit it can turn from their exploitation.
AB 2075 is a significant step backwards in California’s progress as a leader among states like New York and New Jersey that are implementing progressive policies to protect endangered and threatened species, including marine reptiles. In contrast, the State of Louisiana—the primary source of wild alligator skins bought and sold in California—is the only shrimping state in the U.S. that does not enforce federally mandated protections for endangered sea turtles in its shrimp fleet.
The Louisiana legislature even enacted a law prohibiting the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries from enforcing federal regulations that mandate the use of Turtle Excluder Devices, which protect endangered sea turtles from being captured by shrimpers. Furthermore, just this year Louisiana legislators passed another exemption regarding exotic animals that directly overruled several settled court decisions, and again forced the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to loosen their exotic animal regulations––ensuring that a lonely tiger remains caged as a gimmick in a truck stop parking lot. These actions demonstrate that Governor Jindal and the Louisiana legislature cannot be trusted to meaningfully protect endangered and threatened wildlife where there is a profit to be made in the “Sportsman’s Paradise.”
Indeed, alligator slaughtering practices are under-regulated and inhumane. As with all other fur and skin farms, the industry has virtually been left to police itself. On one Louisiana farm, a rancher confessed that he thought refrigerated air killed the alligators so he would stack them in a freezer for a period of time and then skin the animals. Only later did he realize that the air wasn’t killing the alligators–it was merely slowing down their metabolism, and he had been skinning them alive. He then amended his slaughter practice to bashing the alligators in the head with a baseball bat or hammer until death could be confirmed. Not exactly a vast improvement when it comes to the suffering and welfare of these animals. It still is not uncommon for alligators in Louisiana to be skinned while alive and fully conscious.
States like New York and New Jersey have enacted bans on the sales of ivory in the past few months to protect threatened African elephants and curtail their states’ contributions to further the trade in exotic animals and their parts. In direct conflict with those progressive moves, AB 2075 exposes California’s interest in maintaining a supply of exotic animal parts for luxury goods consumers at a time when other states are taking meaningful steps in the opposite direction.
The argument from proponents of AB 2075 is that the alligator parts come from animals who are being farmed in controlled conditions in Louisiana, and that the Beverly Hills boutiques are only selling products made from these farmed animals. However, while AB 2075 ostensibly prohibits the import of skins from critically endangered animals, without tags attached to alligator handbags or shoes to show the origin of the exotic skins used, there is no way to ascertain with certainty whether the items have been crafted from lawfully sourced and traded skins, instead of critically endangered populations. Even if there were a way to distinguish the final goods, there still remains the serious concern over the treatment, slaughter, and welfare of these animals.
ALDF is also concerned that by increasing public access to exotic skins from threatened or endangered species, California will be complicit in perpetuating a false impression that these animals are not truly in peril. That misperception could diminish interest in bona fide conservation initiatives, increase public demand for exotic skins, and thus further incentivize the illegal trade in alligator and crocodile parts. AB 2075 is clearly inconsistent with growing public awareness about the commercial exploitation of exotic animals. AB 2075 was the wrong thing for California and the wrong thing for animal welfare—but the bill was signed into law by Governor Brown in September. Now, ALDF encourages compassionate consumers to vote with their pocketbooks and refuse to purchase any products made from the skins of such animals.