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The fashion industry is one of the largest markets for illegal wildlife products. This study examined US luxury fashion-related wildlife seizures made between 2003 and 2013 to better guide detection, enforcement , and policy. The findings of this study indicate that the number of incidents has increased over the 11-year period, while the number of associated items seized has decreased over this time. Of these seizures, nearly 88% were produced goods. A small proportion of genera made up the majority of seizures, with reptiles in particular accounting for 84% of incidents. Over half of all wildlife was wild-caught and was exported from eight countries. Based on these findings, it is suggested that policy be enacted relating specifically to the use of exotic leathers and furs, and that situational crime prevention alongside commitments to sustainability from fashion brands be used to reduce illegal imports and improve industry sustainability.
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Luxury Fashion Wildlife Contraband in the USA
Monique C. Sosnowski
1
and Gohar A. Petrossian
1
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 524 W 59th St., New York, NY 10019
Abstract: The fashion industry is one of the largest markets for illegal wildlife products. This study examined
US luxury fashion-related wildlife seizures made between 2003 and 2013 to better guide detection, enforce-
ment, and policy. The findings of this study indicate that the number of incidents has increased over the 11-
year period, while the number of associated items seized has decreased over this time. Of these seizures, nearly
88% were produced goods. A small proportion of genera made up the majority of seizures, with reptiles in
particular accounting for 84% of incidents. Over half of all wildlife was wild-caught and was exported from
eight countries. Based on these findings, it is suggested that policy be enacted relating specifically to the use of
exotic leathers and furs, and that situational crime prevention alongside commitments to sustainability from
fashion brands be used to reduce illegal imports and improve industry sustainability.
Keywords: Illegal wildlife trade, Fashion, LEMIS, Environmental criminology, Seizures, Luxury
INTRODUCTION
The illegal trade in flora and fauna is among the most
profitable criminal enterprises in the world. Ranked
alongside the illegal trades in narcotics, arms, and humans,
this trade involves hundreds of millions of individual plants
and animals, and tens of thousands of species (TRAFFIC
n.d.). A worldwide problem, the United Nations has
deemed this trade a ‘global phenomenon’ worth an esti-
mated annual $20 billion (UNODC 2016).
The wildlife trade is regulated on an international level
by the Convention on the International Trade in Endan-
gered Species (CITES), which entered into force in 1975
and focuses on the global trade in threatened and vulner-
able species. The aim of CITES is to prevent the overex-
ploitation of species by designating degrees of protection
over more than 35,000 species of plants and animals. These
varying degrees of protection inform the legality of trade
across the listed flora and fauna (CITES 2019). Specifically,
CITES guides what can and cannot be legally traded across
international borders, given that far from all trade in
wildlife is illegal (i.e., there are global legal markets for
products such as seafood, timber, and meat) (CITES 2019).
Between 1999 and 2015, the 183 parties to CITES made
over 164,000 seizures of illegally traded goods, inventorying
nearly 7000 species (UNODC 2016).
In the USA, CITES regulations work in effect with five
domestic regulatory frameworks to address the national
and international movement of wildlife. These five regu-
latory frameworks include the Endangered Species Act, the
Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Wild Bird Conservation Act,
the Lacey Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Electronic supplementary material: The online version of this article (https://doi.
org/10.1007/s10393-020-01467-y) contains supplementary material, which is avail-
able to authorized users.
Correspondence to: Monique C. Sosnowski, e-mail: msosnowski@jjay.cuny.edu
EcoHealth
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10393-020-01467-y
Original Contribution
Ó2020 EcoHealth Alliance
Across all ports of entry, the United States Fish and Wildlife
Service, in partnership with US Customs and Border Pro-
tection, enforce these regulations, confiscating goods im-
ported or exported in contravention of standing regulations
(USFWS 2019).
According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and
Crime (UNODC), wildlife imports head to seven major
markets, including (1) furniture, (2) art, de
´cor, and jewelry,
(3) seafood, (4) cosmetics and perfume, (5) food, tonics,
and medicines, (6) pets, zoos, and breeding, and (7) fash-
ion. Although the existence of these markets is evident,
what remains unclear is the extent of the role that each of
them plays in the trade. Present internationally, these
markets have global demands and multi-billion dollar
values.
Wildlife in Luxury Fashion Products
Among these seven markets is fashion. The fashion
industry, and especially luxury fashion, poses a high de-
mand for wildlife products. Worth roughly US$100 billion
(Okonkwo 2016), the luxury fashion industry is known for
its prolific use of wildlife skins and furs (Carrigan et al.
2013; Kapferer and Michaut 2017; UNCTAD 2012). Aside
from this, luxury fashion can be distinguished from other
divisions of the fashion industry by its quality, exclusivity,
and high prices (Ko et al. 2019).
Although the fashion industry involves fewer species
than other wildlife industries, such as the pet trade, the size
of the industry requires very large quantities of utilized
species (Russo 2014). The International Union for the
Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and TRAFFIC, a wildlife
trade monitoring network, estimate that in 2012, approx-
imately half a million python skins were exported from
Southeast Asia alone, the overwhelming majority of which
ended up in the European fashion market. The associated
luxury brand importers for these skins included companies
such as Prada, Gucci, Herme
`s, Dior, Burberry, Giorgio
Armani, and Chanel (Russo 2014). Reptile skins, in par-
ticular, have emerged as a popular fashion input material.
In 2013, over 3500 metric tons of reptile skins were legally
imported globally, estimated to be worth US$650 million;
this was more than twice the inflation-adjusted total for the
previous decade. Depending on species, 3500 metric tons
could represent between 2 and 50 million individual rep-
tiles (UNODC 2016).
The use of reptile skins in fashion is an arguably recent
endeavor, only having flourished over the last 100 years
(UNCTAD 2012; UNODC 2016). The trade in snakes and
lizards, as well as practices, such as crocodile farming, only
gained momentum in the nineteenth and twentieth cen-
turies. The mid 1930s, in particular, saw millions of reptile
skins harvested annually in India, Indonesia, and
throughout the tropics, for use in fashion. The trade and
utilization of reptile skins thrived globally through the
1950s and 1960s, which has been identified as the peak of
crocodile skin use in the West (UNCTAD 2012; UNODC
2016). Until the 1960s, wildlife trade was largely unregu-
lated (UNCTAD 2012). In 1963, things started to change.
The IUCN published the first edition of the ‘‘Red Book
Data’’, which identified the world’s endangered species,
including many reptiles (UNCTAD 2012). This attention to
the status of species further culminated in the establish-
ment of the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) in
1975 (CITES 2019; UNCTAD 2012). Currently the 183
signatories to CITES are committed to sustainable trade in
wildlife (CITES 2019). The attention to the population
statuses of species, however, has not exempted endangered
species from harvesting or commercial use. As of 2016,
fourteen countries had registered breeding operations of
CITES Appendix I-listed
1
crocodile, caiman, or alligator
species (UNODC 2016).
Unlike reptile skins, fur has been used in fashion for
centuries (UNODC 2016), and it remains a major fashion
input. In 2013, the CITES Trade Database documented
wild-sourced exports of close to 70,000 bobcat skins, 50,000
river otter skins, 32,000 brown fur seal skins, and almost
27,000 peccary skins. Although some of these skins are used
for decorative purposes, the main market for these prod-
ucts is the fashion industry (UNODC 2016).
The high demand for wildlife products in the luxury
fashion market is reflected in their prices. As of 2019, a pair
of Gucci python ankle boots retail for roughly $3850
(2019), whereas a Michael Kors sable fur coat is available
for approximately $54,000 (2018a), and a Bottega Veneta
crocodile shoulder bag has a price point of $15,750
(2018b). Men’s products, such as Salvatore Ferragamo li-
zard loafers, can also be found online at a price point of
$1600 (2018c). The most expensive handbag in the world,
auctioned by Christie’s in 2016, was a diamond-encrusted
crocodile Herme
`s Berkin bag with a price tag of $300,168—
1
CITES Appendix I includes species that are threatened with extinction. The trade in
these specimens is highly regulated, and only permitted in exceptional circumstances
(CITES 2019).
M. C. Sosnowski, G. A. Petrossian
selling above the handbags standard retail value of $280,000
(Vasudev 2016). These items represent a miniscule sample
of the availability of and demand for wildlife-based prod-
ucts in the luxury fashion industry. The existence of these
goods, paired with the import seizures of fashion-related
products, prompts this investigation into the role and
trends of wildlife in the industry.
Overview of Fashion Seizure Research
In 2016, Petrossian, Pires, and van Uhm analyzed the over
37,000 import seizures made by USFWS and recorded in
the Law Enforcement Management Information Systems
(LEMIS) database between 2003 and 2012 (Petrossian et al.
2016). Their results revealed small leather products as
among the most commonly confiscated wildlife product
with over 4000 individual seizure events occurring between
2003 and 2012. About 82% of these small leather goods
were made from various reptile products. These results
suggest that the domestic fashion market is among the
most popular destinations for wildlife imports in the USA,
and that reptile products likely play a significant role in this
market.
A study by van Uhm et al. (2019) examined trade
seizures of imports and exports made between 2003 and
2010 in the USA and EU. The top 20.6% of all US seizures
consisted of small leather products and garments, including
shoes. Although industry of importer was not specifically
examined during this study, the results indicate that over
one-fifth of illegal imports seized were destined for the
fashion market. The USA clearly dominated the EU in
terms of fashion-related seizures, highlighting the extent to
which fashion goods dominate the US wildlife imports.
To date, no published studies have quantified the
illegal trade practices in the fashion industry, nor have they
indicated the effects this industry may have on global
ecosystems. Reports by organizations, such as the UNODC
(2016) and UNCTAD (2012), have summarized the global
international trade in wildlife, with specific focuses on
reptile skins and big cats, but the international scale of this
examination and specific focus on two categories of im-
ports limits its scope. This research, therefore, is designed
to fill this gap.
Theoretical Framework
Although the illegal wildlife trade has been historically
approached from disciplines such as ecology (Gillson
2003), biology (Karesh et al. 2005), sociology (Taruvinga
and Mushunje 2014; van Uhm et al. 2019), and economics
(Damania and Bulte 2007; Mason et al. 2012; Schneider
2008), this paper will take a criminological approach to the
issue, specifically using environmental criminology to guide
its examination and assessment of the trade (Petrossian
et al. 2016). Environmental criminology is a family of
theories arguing that criminal events should be understood
as the intersection of offenders and targets in a specific time
and place (Brantingham and Brantingham 1991). It looks
for patterns across these elements to seek and explain
crimes in terms of surrounding circumstances. The
manipulation of these circumstances makes it possible to
prevent the occurrence of crime (Wortley and Mazerolle
2013).
Given the intersection of elements that must transpire
to provide criminal opportunity, environmental criminol-
ogy postulates that opportunities for crime are not ran-
domly spread, but rather concentrated across space, time,
and victims or targets. Previous papers have identified these
concentrations as specific to wildlife crime. For example, in
examining the illegal wildlife trade in the USA, Petrossian
et al. (2016) found concentrations in imported wildlife
product by type, with nine out of 64 possible types
accounting for 61% of all seizures; exporting country, with
52% of all seizures exported from six countries; and
transportation mode, with 69% of seizures arriving by air.
In examining seizures recorded by the group TRAFFIC,
Rosen and Smith (2010) also identified distinct patterns,
including marked concentrations of exports from South
and Southeast Asia, as well as an unequal distribution of
taxa, with 51% of seizures being of mammals and mammal
derivatives.
Based on these previous findings, it is expected that
concentrations related to exporting country, wildlife genera
and species, product types, and wildlife source, will emerge
in relation to illegal luxury fashion imports into the USA.
Certain wildlife genera, for example, are likely to be more
highly coveted by the fashion industry due to their socio-
cultural demand, and may emanate from select countries or
regions. These desired genera are likely sourced in similar
ways and used in similar product types. Once these con-
centrations are identified, efforts can be focused to devise
intervention techniques in order to reduce the opportuni-
ties for these crimes, as well as make corresponding policy
improvements.
Policy implications will be addressed using situational
crime prevention, which includes a set of focused response
Luxury Fashion Wildlife Contraband in the USA
strategies concentrating on the circumstances that give rise
to specific crimes. It addresses crimes with 25 intervention
techniques of managerial and environmental change. By
focusing on the settings of crimes, situational crime pre-
vention attempts to make criminal activity less attractive to
offenders. Situational crime prevention techniques include
increasing the effort and risks related to committing crimes,
reducing the rewards associated with crimes, as well as
removing excuses and provocations of partaking in crimi-
nal activity. Interventions falling under these concepts have
been applied successfully in over 200 cases ranging from
burglary and theft to problems of violence to reduce crime
occurrence (Clarke 1997). Based on the results of the sei-
zure analysis, situational crime prevention techniques will
be suggested for trade reduction.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
To understand the patterns of luxury high fashion wildlife
imports into the USA, data were obtained from the United
States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) Law Enforcement
Management Information System (LEMIS) database via a
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The LEMIS
database contains records of wildlife confiscations made
within the US. Confiscations are recorded as being made
due to CITES, Endangered Species Act, Lacey Act, Migra-
tory Bird Treaty Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, and
Wild Bird Conservation Act violations. Each confiscation
incident includes information on the species, the descrip-
tion of the item (i.e., bones, skin, meat, medicinal), US port
of confiscation, the quantity with a corresponding unit of
measurement, purpose (i.e., educational, botanical,
biomedical research, personal, scientific, commercial),
source (i.e., wild, commercially bred, bred in captivity), and
the country of export. Data included in this request ranged
from 2003 to 2013. Changes in the regulations of this da-
tabase restricted the release of commercial importer iden-
tifications after 2013, limiting the ability to obtain more
recent data relating to luxury fashion seizures.
Luxury fashion imports were filtered from this data-
base by identifying importers whose primary products were
garments or shoes; jewelry companies were omitted. Brands
included are those under the LVMH and Kering groups,
each of which own a collection of well-known luxury
fashion designer brands, as well as other brands with sim-
ilar profiles based on products, popularity, prices, and sales.
Filtered data were analyzed in IBM SPSS Version 23.
Each line of entry represented one species identified and
therefore was treated as a single seizure incident (Kurland
and Pires 2017; Petrossian et al. 2016). Only seizures were
examined in order to focus on the illegal aspect of the trade
(Petrossian et al. 2016).
Analytical Strategy
The analysis consisted primarily of descriptive statistics
demonstrating trends in seizures by type of products,
genera, species, as well as the source of these products and
their origin country. Linear regressions were performed to
analyze trends over time for the more commonly seized
reptile species, as well as wildlife product types. A heatmap
was created in order to visualize the nuances of these
dynamics.
For the analysis of concentrations, Lorenz plots were
applied and corresponding Gini coefficients were calcu-
lated. The Gini coefficient was originally designed to cal-
culate income inequality (Gini 1921), but has since been
applied to a wide range of issues spanning wastewater
discharge (Sun et al. 2010), global CO
2
emissions (Soares
et al. 2018), as well as wildlife trade (van Uhm et al. 2019).
The formula used to calculate the Gini coefficient is shown
in Eq. 1. G is the Gini coefficient; A is the area between the
line of equality and the curve; and B is the proportion of
area below the curve. Based on the Gini coefficient, the 80–
20 rule (or the Pareto principle) was further applied to
explain the observed concentrations. This general principle
states that roughly 80% of effects come from 20% of causes
(Newman 2013). Similar strategies have been applied to
analyze and explain concentrations in crime across crimi-
nological studies, and particularly illegal wildlife (Kurland
and Pires 2017).
G¼A
AþBð1Þ
RESULTS
Trends in Illegal Imports Over Time
There were a total of 474 relevant incidents and 5607 items
seized between 2003 and 2013. For reference, there were
2930 legal CITES trade import/export permits relating to
M. C. Sosnowski, G. A. Petrossian
commercial fashion
2
issued into the USA during this same
time period. Figure 1depicts the trends in both incidents
and items during the time frame as well as corresponding
linear trend lines. The linear trend lines indicate an overall
increase over time in the number of incidents with an
overall decrease in the number of items seized. The period
from 2007 to 2009 appeared to have experienced lower
rates of both seizure incidents and seized items. After this
dip, trends for incidents and items diverge—incidents
continue to grow while items tapered off or decreased, with
a spike in both incidents and items in 2012. All seizures
were recorded as imported for commercial reasons.
Concentrations by Type of Wildlife Product
Table 1presents the types of wildlife products confiscated
from US luxury fashion importers between 2003 and 2013.
These seizures indicate that roughly 88% of the fashion
products incidents comprised of fully manufactured
products as opposed to input materials, and consisted
Table 1. Wildlife Descriptions by Nof Incidents and Items in the USA (2003–2013).
Item description
a
Incidents % Items %
Small leather product 159 33.54 1230 21.94
Shoe 77 16.24 883 15.75
Large leather product 73 15.40 398 7.09
Trim (shoe, garment, decorative) 55 11.60 933 16.64
Garment 49 10.33 232 4.14
Shell product 14 2.95 1629 29.05
Skin (substantially whole) 17 3.59 161 2.87
Skin piece (raw or tanned) 18 3.80 84 1.50
Jewelry 5 1.05 43 0.77
Cloth 2 0.42 2 0.04
Horn carving 2 0.42 2 0.04
Medicinal part or product 1 0.21 7 0.12
Coral (raw, unworked) 1 0.21 2 0.04
Coral product 1 0.21 1 0.02
a
Products are listed in the form in which they were seized. It is important to note that seized skins could have been intended for production of shoes, garments,
or other goods. This reflects a difference in production location, but there is no way of distinguishing raw versus finished products upon import.
Figure 1. Nof incidents and quantity of items confiscated from 2003 to 2013.
2
Search trade terms included: belts, clothes, fur products (small), fur products
(large), garments, handbags, leather items, leather products (small), leather products
(large), shoes, spectacle frames, wallets, and watchstraps. The results relate broadly to
all commercial fashion, not only luxury.
Luxury Fashion Wildlife Contraband in the USA
primarily of small and large leather products, shoes, trim,
and garments; these products accounted for 67% of con-
fiscated items. Small leather products were the most com-
monly confiscated good, seized over twice as often as the
next product type. Small leather products included man-
ufactured belts, wallets, and watchbands, while large leather
products included manufactured briefcases, suitcases, and
furniture. Although shell products accounted for only 3%
of seizure incidents, they accounted for the largest number
of items and comprised 29% of items overall.
Linear regression analyses examining the trends of the
imports over the time period examined (2003–2013) re-
vealed significant results for wildlife imported as ‘‘shoe’’
and as ‘‘garment.’’ All other product types were not sig-
nificant, thus, not reported here. Wildlife imported as
‘‘shoes’’ experienced a significant decrease over time, while
significant increases are noted for wildlife imported as
‘‘garment’’ (Table 2).
Concentrations by Wildlife Genera
A total of 49 genera were among the seizures between 2003
and 2013. The top six genera by number of seizure inci-
dents were all part of the taxonomic group Reptilia. These
reptile genera consisted of Python,Alligator,Crocodylus,
Caiman (a genus closely related to alligators), Varanus
(genus of monitor lizards), and Homalopsis (a genus of
freshwater aquatic snakes). Together, reptiles accounted for
nearly 84% of all seizures by number of incidents, and 61%
of seizures by number of items seized. Out of Reptilia,
pythons were the most commonly confiscated, seized 2.3
times more than the second most common genera.
A Lorenz-plot curve in Figure 2more clearly illustrates
the inequality of genera seized. The observed lines repre-
senting incidents and items both significantly deviate from
the line of equality, found at 45°. This line represents
perfect equality of confiscations across incidents and items.
The greater the deviation is from the line of equality, the
greater the inequality of distribution. Upon inspection of
the plots, it can be concluded that a small proportion of
genera account for a large portion of the total seizures. The
Gini coefficient for incidents was 0.75 and 0.80 for items.
This distribution closely matches the 80–20 rule (the Pareto
principle), stating that roughly 80% of seizures are com-
prised of approximately 20% of genera, calculated in terms
of both incidents and items.
Concentrations by Reptile Species
Within the Reptilia genus, six genera accounted for the top
14 species seized by number of incidents, as seen in Fig-
ure 3.Python reticulatus and Varanus niloticus were the
most commonly seized by number of items, each
accounting for roughly 15% of reptilian seizures. Uniden-
Table 2. Linear Regression Results for Wildlife Products.
Variable BStd. error Standardized beta tSig.
Shoe
Constant 17,222.193 9157.955 1.881 0.097
Year -8.576 4.563 -0.448 -1.879 0.097
Incidents 11.403 3.727 0.729 3.060 0.016
Garment
Constant -2626.996 2969.746 -0.885 0.402
Year 1.304 1.480 0.139 0.881 0.404
Incidents 6.853 1.285 0.844 5.334 0.001
Figure 2. Lorenz plot curve of seizure incidents and items by genera.
M. C. Sosnowski, G. A. Petrossian
tified python subspecies (Python spp.) were the third most
commonly seized by number of items at 9%. Alligator
mississippiensis came in second in terms of the number of
incidents and accounted for just over 6% of items. Over
99% of species were recorded as seized due solely to or
partially due to CITES trade violations. Specifically, 47.3%
were seized due to only a CITES violation, while another
36.2% were made due to CITES plus another violation (i.e.,
Endangered Species Act, Lacey Act, Migratory Birds Treaty
Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Water Bird Conser-
vation Act).
Linear regression analyses revealed significant results
for six out of the top 14 species seized between 2003 and
2013. For Python spp., Crocodilus niloticus,V. niloticus,
Python molurus,Varanus spp., Crocodylus spp., and all
seizure incidents involved significant increasing trends over
the 11-year period for Python spp., C. niloticus,V. niloticus,
and Varanus spp., and significant decreasing trends for
Crocodilus spp. and P. molurus. When all import incidents
are considered, there seems to be a significant decrease in
the imports over the 11-year period examined (Table 3).
The heatmaps reflect the import dynamics of the top
14 reptile species by items and incidents from 2003 through
2013. Specifically, they illustrate the quantities of each of
the top 14 species imported year to year. When examining
the changes by items seized, V. niloticus and P. reticulatus
stand out as experiencing unique fluxes and overall higher
volumes of seizures. When examining incidents, these same
two species, plus A. mississippiensis, experience noticeably
higher seizure events with varied peaks and troughs. Given
the high counts for V. niloticus as well as P. reticulatus in
regard to both items and incidents, it becomes particularly
clear that these two species face the highest imports overall.
These heatmaps further illustrate the consistencies and lack
thereof by species across time (Fig. 4).
Concentrations by Wildlife Source
Nearly 58% of the seizure incidents made were of wild-
caught species (Fig. 5). The next most common source was
captive breeding. A few genera stood out across these
groups. Namely, 79 Python seizure incidents accounting for
759 items, and 31 Varanus incidents accounting for 694
items, were reported as wild caught. Another 43 Python
incidents, corresponding to 166 items, were captive bred,
and 128 items of Homalopsis were captive born.
Concentration by Country of Export
The 474 seizure incidents involving 5607 items related to
luxury fashion were exported from a total 28 countries.
Figure 6displays the distribution of these countries, as well
as the number of seizure incidents reported from each.
Approximately 75% of seizure incidents were recorded as
exported from six countries, namely Italy, France,
Switzerland, Singapore, China, and Hong Kong. The
majority of seizures were exported from Europe, with three
countries accounting for 56% of all seizure incidents.
Figure 3. Top 14 reptile species seized by Nof incidents and items (2003–2013).
Luxury Fashion Wildlife Contraband in the USA
Additionally, approximately 20% of the exports were from
East and Southeast Asia (namely, Singapore, China, and
Hong Kong). The remaining 22 countries accounted for
between 0.21% and 3.38% of exports.
Concentration by Country of Origin
A total of 32 countries were listed as the countries of origin
for the total of 474 incidents involving 5607 luxury fashion
products. Twelve percent of the incidents reported the USA
as the country of origin, with Vietnam (12%), Indonesia
(9.9%), Malaysia (4%), Thailand (3.6%), Argentina (3.4%),
Venezuela (3%), and China (2.7%), collectively accounting
for over 50% of the incidents. Interestingly, none of these
countries, except for China, were the same as the export
countries. Top exporters, including Italy, France, Switzer-
land, Singapore, and Hong Kong, accounted for only 0.4%,
0.8%, 0%, 0.4%, 0.4% of origin countries, respectively. This
likely indicates that the top exporters may serve as transit
countries for species originating elsewhere. Figure 7a–d
illustrates the relationship of the origin countries to the top
countries of export (i.e., Italy, France, Switzerland, Singa-
pore, China, and Hong Kong—see Sect. 3.6). China and
Hong Kong had extensive missing data regarding the
country of origins, and therefore meaningful maps could
not be made.
DISCUSSION
Summary of Findings
This study provided an analysis of luxury fashion-related
wildlife seizures made in the USA between 2003 and 2013.
Table 3. Linear Regression Results for Reptile Species.
Variable BStd. error Standardized beta tSig.
Python spp.
Constant -1644.25 1119.18 -1.469 0.180
Year 0.820 0.558 0.250 1.470 0.180
Incidents 4.469 0.980 0.776 4.561 0.002
Crocodilus niloticus
Constant -163.043 473.316 -0344 0.739
Year 0.082 0.236 0.757 0.347 0.738
Incidents 1.00 0.323 0.757 3.094 0.015
Varanus niloticus
Constant -1.63.043 473.316 -0.344 0.739
Year 0.082 0.236 0.085 0.347 0.738
Incidents 72.451 24.274 0.884 2.985 0.017
Python molurus
Constant 649.688 859.514 0.756 0.471
Year -0.323 0.428 -0.243 -0.755 0.472
Incidents 1.830 0.739 0.798 2.475 0.038
Varanus spp.
Constant -457.669 411.976 -1.111 0.299
Year 0.228 0.205 0.195 1.110 0.299
Incidents 2.951 0.617 0.841 4.787 0.001
Crocodylus spp.
Constant 150.508 178.291 0.844 0.423
Year -0.075 0.089 -0.204 -0.844 0.423
Incidents 1.749 0.564 0.748 3.101 0.015
All incidents
Constant 73,535.204 29,829.677 2.465 0.039
Year -36.604 14.863 -0.617 -2.463 0.039
Incidents 7.928 3.789 0.525 2.092 0.070
M. C. Sosnowski, G. A. Petrossian
Luxury fashion importers were identified from seizure re-
cords corresponding to 474 individual seizure events and
5607 items. Overall, the number of luxury fashion-related
seizure incidents appears to have increased over time. The
number of items confiscated, however, has generally de-
creased. This could partially be explained by a known in-
crease in active duty wildlife crime inspectors at US ports
between 2003 and 2013, from 94 to 140, although this in-
crease saw no change in the number of shipments physi-
cally inspected year to year (Petrossian et al. 2016). Other
explanations include better adherence from the brands to
wildlife regulations or a shift away from using wildlife
products in luxury fashion (Bekhechi 2017; Bobb 2018;
Conlon 2017).
Reptiles emerged as the most commonly confiscated
wildlife class by both number of incidents and items.
Genera falling under the reptile class accounted for the vast
majority of seizures, with pythons in particular, standing
out. The identification of most commonly imported genera
can inform law enforcement as to where to focus their
identification efforts, and inform conservationists as to
what species should be regularly examined or more heavily
protected. If pythons are the most common illegally im-
ported species group, canine units, for example, could be-
come better prepared for their detection.
Figure 4. Heatmap of aseized items by species over the examined decade and bseizure incidents by species over the examined decade.
Luxury Fashion Wildlife Contraband in the USA
Although reptiles were the most commonly seized
group, these seizures likely represent a very small propor-
tion of the impact the luxury fashion industry has on
reptile species. The taxonomic class Reptilia contains over
10,000 species, but less than 10% are CITES listed. Only 80
species and 5 subspecies are found on Appendix I, a total of
673 on Appendix II, and 40 on Appendix III (UNODC
2016). Further, the majority of snake and lizard species
have remained within the same appendix under which they
were originally listed; crocodilian species have uniquely
experienced increasing degrees of protection (UNCTAD
2012). The large majority of reptile species remain un-as-
sessed (listed as either data deficient or simply missing from
both databases) (UNODC 2016), and therefore often
unprotected by international or national regulations. Fur-
ther, in the USA, reptiles are excluded from the Animal
Figure 5. Wildlife source of luxury fashion goods by Nof seizure
incidents (2003–2013).
Figure 6. Luxury fashion seizure incident countries of export.
M. C. Sosnowski, G. A. Petrossian
Figure 7. Origin of species exported to aItaly, bFrance, cSwitzerland and dSingapore.
Luxury Fashion Wildlife Contraband in the USA
Figure 7. continued
M. C. Sosnowski, G. A. Petrossian
Welfare Act, meaning they, overall, fail to be protected
within the USA (Animal Welfare Act 1966; PETA 2018).
The majority of the seizures within the examined period
were of wild-caught wildlife. This was interesting to find, as
while captive and commercial breeding operations would be
more likely to produce the intended species for product
production, wild catching would seem to present greater
opportunity for mistaking species, or intentionally catching
similar species, that may be protected by one of the five US
regulatory frameworks. Within this same vein, various
studies have previously uncovered that ranching/farming
facilities, particularly in Asia, often fail to have breeding
operations and are rather used to launder the wild-caught
specimens we find seized at US ports of entry (Lyons and
Natusch 2011; Nuwer 2017; Russo 2014). With East and
Southeast Asia responsible for a significant proportion of
seizure incidents when it comes to both origin and export
countries, this dynamic could contribute to the high pro-
portion of wild-caught species seized at import, as well as
draw attention to potentially undetected pressures on certain
wildlife populations. The volatility of the fashion industry,
ripe with booms and busts due to seasonality and style, has
been noted to make farming a risky economic venture.
Further, this process can be time-consuming; a Burmese
Python, for instance, taking 4 years to reach a har-
vestable length (UNODC 2016). These dynamics may pose
threats to the future of many reptile species in the wild.
By examining both countries of origin as well as
countries of export, it has been possible to demonstrate the
route the majority of luxury fashion products take before
arriving in the US. Given that 12% of seizures originated in
the USA and another 30% originated in Southeast Asia, but
that over 50% of seizures were exported from Europe
(namely Italy, France, and Switzerland), the path the
wildlife takes from its origins to its transit countries before
arriving in the USA becomes illuminated. Harvested in the
USA and Southeast Asia, fashion inputs likely make their
way to Europe for production with fashion houses prior to
being exported to the US market for consumption.
Efforts were made to quantitatively explain the pat-
terns identified regarding the most commonly seized reptile
species. Analyses such as CRAVED
3
were attempted; how-
ever, significant data deficiency hindered our abilities to
make informed assessments. Attempts at this assessment,
however, shed light on the extent of data deficiency
regarding species that are both legally and illegal traded.
Nearly all of the legally and illegally traded reptile species
were associated with missing or outdated population esti-
mates, and only a fraction had associated species distribu-
tion maps. A significant portion of reptiles were entirely
un-assessed or in need of updated information to inform
IUCN and CITES protection statuses. These deficiencies
not only inherently limited our analysis but also restrict the
ability of conservation bodies and governments to make
informed decisions regarding sustainable harvest for com-
mercial use. We strongly encourage the IUCN and CITES
to formally assess reptile species and set forth protections,
as needed.
This substantial lack of available data surrounding
commercially traded species cannot go unnoticed, and this
status quo is in urgent need of change. Without this data,
international and national protection statuses cannot be
properly established, and the continuation of both legal and
illegal wildlife trade should be considered a potential threat
to the long-term survival of the species. Should data be
collected to address the data deficiency regarding reptile
species, a quantitative analysis examining why some reptile
species are traded more heavily than others is recom-
mended. This could be in the form of a CRAVED or
CAPTURED
4
framework assessment, as previously per-
formed for other wildlife trade studies (Moreto and Le-
mieux 2015; Petrossian and Clarke 2014; Pires 2015).
Limitations
The LEMIS database is the most comprehensive record of
all wildlife seizures made within the USA. However, various
limitations exist as to its accuracy and use. First, LEMIS, as
well as other such databases, can only be as accurate and
comprehensive as those reporting (Blundell and Mascia
2005). Specifically, various data were missing from the
database and a number of entries were either marked as
unknown or left blank, and the rate of identification
accuracy is unknown among those reporting. While none
of the genera, import/export countries, descriptions, or
3
The CRAVED model was developed by Clarke (1999) to systematically examine why
some goods are more heavily targeted for theft than others. The acronym, which
breaks down to Concealable,Removable,Available,Valuable, and Enjoyable, has been
applied successfully to a wide range of stolen goods, including those found within the
illegal wildlife trade (Moreto and Lemieux 2015; Petrossian and Clarke 2014; Pires
2015).
4
The CAPTURED model is an expansion of the CRAVED model with specific
applicability to wildlife trade. Developed by Moreto and Lemieux (2015), the acro-
nym stands for Concealable,Available,Processable,Transferrable,Useable,Removable,
Enjoyable, and Desirable.
Luxury Fashion Wildlife Contraband in the USA
quantities importer were missing in this dataset as it per-
tains to luxury fashion seizures, roughly 3.8% of species
and 1.5% of sources (i.e., wild, farmed) were missing.
Within the listed species, however, many were designated
‘‘spp.’’, meaning the inspectors were unable to determine
the specific species. This accounted for nearly 16% of
identifications.
Further, it is estimated that seizures represent a max-
imum of 10% of all illegal trafficking, the rest remaining
unreported or undiscovered (Stiles et al. 2013). However,
due to the time range of the data and the methods by which
goods are intercepted, it is believed that LEMIS is a pow-
erful representation of wildlife smuggled into the country.
Although limitations exist, this database is the most com-
prehensive available catalogue of wildlife contraband im-
ports. And while it is likely that a large underrepresentation
of the true amount of illegal imports exists, this data can,
nevertheless, be used to represent the general trends in
luxury high fashion product seizures.
Policy Implications
There are yet to be any policies on the use of exotic leathers,
such as reptile leathers, which are the most commonly
seized products, both in terms of incidents and item
quantities. The primary regulation protecting these species
is the CITES (PETA 2018), which solely regulates interna-
tional trade in listed species. The results of this study should
inform the creation of such regulations, which are long past
due. Given the prevalence of exotic leather and fur use in
fashion for centuries, CITES and other regulatory bodies
should enact policies on its use and sustainability in order
to protect wild population, the welfare of farmed and bred
populations, and the sustainability of the fashion industry.
The creation of policy targeting the use of wildlife in luxury
fashion is way to ‘remove excuses,’ and specifically ‘set
rules,’ which have been successful methods of situational
crime prevention. As previously mentioned, these cate-
gories fall within the realm of situational crime prevention,
whose main tenants include increasing the efforts and risks
associated with crime commission, decreasing the rewards
of engaging in crime, as well as both reducing the provo-
cations and removing the excuses of becoming involved in
criminal activity (Clarke 1997). These policy recommen-
dations, along with those below, can be found in Table 4.
Another means by which to ‘remove excuses’ is by
‘alerting conscience.’ A better understanding of illegal im-
ports may also allow for more focused monitoring and
detection efforts by law enforcement. Training can be fo-
cused on the detection of commonly illegally imported
species, and educational campaigns could be used to make
the public more aware of the negative impacts the use of
wildlife in fashion can have on wild populations. These
should be targeted at the US population consuming luxury
fashion goods, as well as the most common countries or
regions of export, specifically East and Southeast Asia.
Further, much can be done from the side of the brands
directly, who can commit to sustainable practices or the use
of faux leathers and furs, as well as work more closely with
CITES management authorities to ensure trade chain
transparency and sustainability. Such increased communi-
cation between global suppliers and national CITES man-
agement authorizes could improve awareness of regulations
and subsequent consequences or facilitate, for instance, a
wildlife product sustainability certification system (UN-
CTAD 2012). Few luxury brands have already indepen-
dently committed to improving the sustainability of their
wildlife products as well as shifting toward faux skins and
furs as an alternative. In 2014, the Kering Group partnered
with the International Trade Center and the IUCN SSC Boa
and Python Specialist Group to form the Python Conser-
vation Partnership, aiming to improve sustainability in the
python trade (Ethical Shopping Guide 2017); however, it
does not plan to stop sourcing wild pythons and has pre-
viously expressed interest in developing its own python
farms (Butler 2018). Kering has also looked into platforms,
such as the Responsible Ecosystem Sourcing Platform
(RESP), which focuses on creating a global traceability
system for species such as the python, connecting the dots
from source to consumer (Russo 2014). Partnerships with
groups, such as the IUCN SSCs, can build valuable multi-
stakeholder platforms that can work to solve industry
problems. In a step further forward, as of 2017, various
luxury fashion companies announced that they would no
longer be using real fur in any of their goods (Bekhechi
2017; Bobb 2018; Conlon 2017; Penrose 2019). Lastly,
falling within the scope of SCP’s ‘discouraging imitation,’
we argue that farmed species should be considered an
imitation of the wild species, as they serve the same pur-
pose, being harvested for their skins or furs that are further
utilized as fashion inputs. When considering means of
‘discouraging imitation,’ we believe that the farming of
species for their skins or furs should be dissuaded.
M. C. Sosnowski, G. A. Petrossian
CONCLUSIONS
The luxury fashion industry plays a clear role in the imports
of wildlife contraband. The fashion industry remains the
largest importer of illegal wildlife to the USA and has the
potential to impact the status of wild populations. Both
fashion brands and consumers can play their part in
reducing the trade. While fashion brands can make com-
mitments to end the use of animal fur and skins in pro-
duction, consumers can shift their demand away from
unsustainable wildlife products. In this era, fashion
designers should no longer be ignoring global sustainability
and should be stimulated to do so by consumers. In the
midst of the sixth mass extinction, courtesy of human
activity, fashion needs to be recognized as a ‘want’ not a
‘need.’ Our technology is at a point where faux skins and
furs are regularly produced and available and may fill the
lingering demand for wildlife fashion products. Both
brands and consumers should be investing in improving
these technologies, shifting demand, and conserving Earth’s
wild places. If species are beautiful enough to carry as a
handbag, they should be beautiful enough to let live sus-
tainably and fulfill their ecological roles in the wild.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
We would like to extend our thanks to the reviewers who
took the time to thoroughly review this manuscript and
provide recommendations. These were found greatly use-
ful, and we believe strengthened the piece. We would like to
thank Diba Rouzbahani for her help in producing the
heatmap visualizations.
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Luxury Fashion Wildlife Contraband in the USA
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