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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Skin Trade

It turns out that python skin is the newest trend for purses and pumps, but it’s a mortal liability for the wild reptiles that provide it

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We've followed Ammann's crusade in Outdoor Photographer, beginning with early articles on what he would term the "world in order" beauty of East Africa, then the topics changed to gorilla poaching in the Western jungles, and most recently, the trade in wild animal medicinal products in Southeast Asia. In this new role, his equipment has changed from the typical large telephotos of the wildlife photographer to more portable, less conspicuous and sometimes concealable equipment. The photographs that result from these projects are gruesome and offensive, but represent a profoundly different use for the camera. Truth trumps beauty. Ammann's images become more about documentation and evidence-gathering than perpetuating myths about the world's Edens.

End Product: With handbags selling for upwards of $4,000 by designers, it's easy to see the driving force behind the trade. Ammann encounters resistance to cameras at couture stores, as well as country markets, so much of his photo/video-gathering requires inconspicuous capture.
"To expand on the 'Swiss angle' in the CITES context," says Ammann, "I proposed to take a close look at the reptile skin trade and to what extent it really complied with the stipulations of the convention. The proposal was then picked up by another magazine show platform at Swiss TV, and I was asked to arrange a corresponding shoot in Indonesia. This initial item illustrated some of the animal cruelty issues, as well as some indicators as to how various actors managed to export skins outside existing CITES quotas and other shortcomings in terms of compliance. As with most such investigations, it soon became clear that other aspects—like the export and import of personal effect items made from reptile skins, the claims by some other Southeast Asia countries of exporting mostly captive-born pythons, the role of some transit countries, etc.—required further research and fieldwork. This was completed in March of 2011, and all the material has been worked into a comprehensive documentary."

Ammann adds, "A further issue which arose in the context of this investigation is the fact that many of the importing countries have specific laws when it comes to cruelty issues [no import of items where cruelty was involved in the production process]. As such, there is little doubt that, irrespective of the weak compliance and lack of enforcement by the CITES authorities, there is also another legal aspect which should be taken a lot more seriously. I plan to expand on this cruelty issue and then take this second angle to the respective national authorities, the fashion houses and watch manufacturers, which are clearly party to this infringement of national laws."

When one luxury goods manufacturer professes in its literature to customers "profound respect for nature which translates into efforts to preserve beautiful landscapes, protect biodiversity, ensure consumer health and the harmless production methods...," it conjures the question, what's the definition of "profound respect"? These pictures and some video material reveal what's taking place on the ground in Southeast Asia. Ammann has been approached by a range of animal welfare NGOs with requests to assist with documentary material, but he continues to insist that they provide clear information on what they plan as their campaign and how they would endeavor to measure the results and achievements. This year, for instance, the CITES quota provides for over 150,000 reticulated python skins that can be exported from Indonesia. Countless more are exported illegally. The largest question remains: What's sustainable for any species that's the brunt of such market demand?

The numbers are numbing, but photos and video footage are explicit and undeniable.

You can see more of Karl Ammann's revealing investigative environmental photography at karlammann.com.


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