In October of 2014, Vogue published an article titled “The Anatomy of a $432,000 Handbag”. It seems the irony of the title is unintentional as the writer uses the word “crocodile” to refer not to an animal, but a fabric, and goes on to praise the bag in great detail, calling it “a timeless piece of art, [that] will be in style forever, and is something a woman will cherish her entire life and then pass on to future generations.”
The bodies of alligators and crocodiles have become a lucrative business. Though not all of them will become half million dollar bags, the leather made from their skins has become synonymous in markets with the utmost luxury, making their trade a multi-million dollar a year industry. But if you were to look beyond the expensive gleam of the final product, before it was cut and shaped into a purse, boots, a belt, or a wristwatch, luxury may be the last word you’d think to describe what you saw. Months before it was an item, it was a creature with eyes and a beating heart living in the bottom of a crowded, filthy concrete pool.
Young crocodiles crowd onto square concrete slabs in a Cambodian farm.
Though wild crocs can live as long as humans, they are slaughtered on farms when they are 3 years old.
A feeding and viewing deck for visitors overlooks the pool for the older crocodiles.
A sign advertises live feedings to the crocodiles available for purchase as entertainment.
Farms like the one in Cambodia shown here likely supply skins to foreign companies for most of its income and leave the doors open for visitors as an afterthought, but others such as those located in places like Florida or Louisiana in the United States capitalize on the tourist experience to a much more extensive degree. Tours bring crowds through the natural habitat of the Everglades on airboat rides, to arenas to witness alligator wrestling, even into the darkened sheds where the young are raised until they are slaughtered. Many of these tours cater to families and have activities specifically designed to entertain children such as throwing a live mouse into a waiting pool of gators, demonstrating how to tape the animals’ mouths shut, and handling young gators and posing with them in pictures. The industry operates under the presentation that it is necessary for the purposes of education and conservation.
Factory farming is a shadowy, forbidden world for chickens, pigs, and cows; but when it comes to alligators, the industry has been turned into an amusement park.
Tourists crane for a look at a wild alligator on an airboat tour in Everglades, Florida.
This row of small dark sheds holds roughly 2,000 alligators.
Alligators are grouped by age and kept in these pools until they are large enough for slaughter.
Each tour group is entertained by a live mouse tossed into one of the pools for a feeding frenzy.
Children are encouraged to touch the smaller alligators.
Guides stage handling performances with the animals.
A tourist poses for a photo with a young gator at the end of a tour.
Alligator head sits for sale amidst other souveniers in the gift shop.
Curiously, at the end of all this, we come back where the story began- in a shop selling products made from expensive gator skins. But this time, the handbag does not seem far from the animal at all. It’s not an illusion; it’s made from the same animal people held in their own hands moments before to pose for a picture, the same animals whose mouths their children taped shut, the same animals they closed in the dark behind them as they left the sheds.
And most people buy it anyway.
Link to the full video here:
- blog entry written by Kelly Guerin