The Mississippi just crept up on Mumbai. All for the sake of fashion. Skins of alligators trapped in the US river are arriving in Mumbai — often getting around several laws — in the form of watchbands, wallets and handbags. Neatly packed, most of these are high-value products finding pride of place in lifestyle stores to cater to a growing demand for ‘exotic’ accessories.
While in 2006 there was not a single consignment of alligator skin, in 2007-08, there have been over 100 in Mumbai, according to Central Wildlife Crime Bureau data. Kolkata and Rajkot have also emerged as major transit points. Among the leading brands using alligator skin are Cartier and Jimmy Choo.
Convention on International Traffic in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) demands clear declaration of where the animal was sourced, the genus, species and details of procurement. Many importers find it tedious — 20 out of 45 consignments, which landed in Mumbai over the last quarter, did not comply with these regulations. With prices ranging from Rs 1.5 lakh for a wristwatch to Rs 75 lakh for a handbag, importers couldn’t care less about the law.
CITES is an agreement between governments, adopted in 1973 at a meeting of the World Conservation Union, aiming to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. It accords varying degrees of protection to over 33,000 species. CITES controls require that all import, export, re-export and introduction of species covered by the convention be authorised through a permitting system.
Roughly 5,000 species of animals and 28,000 species of plants are protected by CITES against over-exploitation through international trade. Officials at the newly-formed Central Wildlife Crime Bureau in Mumbai said often declarations are absent and there are discrepancies between documents. “One package was falsely declared as ‘Nile crocodile’ only to boost its value,” said an official.