Malaysian Animal Welfare Society president Shenaaz Khan says after a snake’s mouth is hooked, the body pumped with water and the skin ripped off its body, it is left to die a slow and painful death. File pix by Syarafiq Abd Samad
Reticulated python skins packed into boxes ready to be exported. Pix courtesy of SKY Pacify Reptile Sdn Bhd

STRINGENT enforcement and close monitoring of python breeding facilities are crucial to ensure there is no laundering of wild snakes as captive-bred ones, says TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

Its Southeast Asia programme manager, Kanitha Krishnasamy, said history had shown that captive breeding could be abused and worked against the conservation of species in the wild.

“Even within the best-regimented systems, there remains a basic challenge of cheap collection from the wild versus more expensive breeding programmes. In other words, will captive breeding (of all kinds of animals in general) be financially viable?

“Frequent, unannounced inspections of premises and breeding stocks are a necessity. Farms should be required to submit records of breeding stock and offspring.

“The success of any such system depends on the country’s commitment to making it efficient and transparent,” she told the New Sunday Times.

She said there should be a national licensing system for collectors so that authorities can track collection and sale of pythons across state lines.

Currently, she said, such licences were issued only at the state level.

“One common smuggling method is slipping illegal skins into a legal shipment. So, checks at ports, airports and border crossings by enforcement agencies could stop illegal shipments.”

Kanitha said TRAFFIC recommended that the authorities carry out a non-detrimental study to determine trade quotas.

Malaysian Animal Welfare Society president Shenaaz Khan said pythons were often treated cruelly.

“Every inch is of value and that is literally the case with the snake skin trade.

“Therefore, barbaric methods have been employed, such as starving the snake to loosen its skin, making it more pliable, and then pumping water into it to stretch the skin further.

“After its mouth is hooked, the body pumped with water and the skin ripped off its body, the snake is left to die a slow and painful death,” she said.

The newly introduced Best Practice Guidelines for Python Processing Facilities states that the snakes should be kept in the least stressful environment and humane killing methods should be employed, which rely on the destruction of the python brain before skinning.

Shenaaz concurred that strict enforcement was key to ensuring facilities toed the line.

“Monitoring and regulating do not merely mean looking at the architecture and accounts of these facilities.

“They must be scrutinised routinely to ensure no form of cruelty is taking place.” 

She said despite the ban on imports of retic skin to the European Union, the skins were making its way to the countries via Singapore.

“Malaysia wants to cut out the middleman through the lifting of the ban.”

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Selangor patron Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said animals, whether domestic or wild, should not be killed.

The snakes, he said, should be set free into the wild, instead of killing and selling them for the benefit of humans.

“This is no doubt a cruel act. I’m very firm on my stand against cruelty to animals. Snakes being killed for the skin to be used in making handbags and belts? They should be released into the wild instead.

“Perhilitan should take the responsibility of relocating them to forests. These pythons are entering towns and cities looking for food because their natural habitats have been destroyed.”

Perlihitan to keep close watch on farmers, traders

THE Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) will keep a close watch on snake farmers and traders to ensure that only sustainable reticulated pythons are sold.

Its director-general, Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim, said this would include educating stakeholders on the importance of the Best Practice Guidelines for Python Processing Facilities, which came into effect on April 1.

“Perhilitan has collaborated with the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission Boa and Python Specialist Group (IUCN SSC BPSG) to carry out a series of engagement programmes at processing facilities to ensure that the traders understand the new regulations regarding the size limit restrictions.

He said the guidelines were aimed at improving the standards of such facilities.

“They contain important principles covering issues related to design and maintenance, worker safety, hygiene, humane killing of pythons (which rely on the destruction of the brain before skinning) and others.

“The process (from harvesting the snakes to exporting them) involves highly-skilled individuals, most often those who have learnt these skills from their forefathers,” he told the New Sunday Times.

Kadir said a series of workshops would be conducted in the near future to educate operators on ways to best manage their facilities that adhere to the standards in the Best Practice Guidelines.

Fashion brands in Europe, he said, adhered to strict guidelines for their product supplies.

“For example, they will ensure that raw skin comes from a legal source, harvest is sustainable, processing is of high hygiene standards, workers’ safety is not compromised and the killing is humane.”

Kadir said Perhilitan had issued 381 hunting licences in Peninsular Malaysia this year, with 10 python processing facilities registered. There is only one registered python breeder/farmer in Malaysia.

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