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399 Endangered Baby Crocodiles Saved From Becoming Leather Goods

Animals

Designer handbags are expensive, but the true price of luxury leather accessories are the countless numbers of exotic animals that are illegally hunted and slaughtered for their skin.

In southern China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, border police seized 399 baby Siamese crocodiles from a rented house in Dongxing City, National Geographic reported via China's Xinhua News Agency. The tiny creatures were only 25 centimeters long and roughly two weeks old and likely trafficked from Vietnam.

Police told Xinhua News that they uncovered the crocs after approaching three "nervous" men in front of the house. Two of the men escaped in a truck but the third was caught. Raising or trafficking the species without a license is illegal in China.

This past January, 70 frozen wild Siamese crocodiles were seized from a seafood truck in Fangchenggang, Xinhua wrote.

The critically endangered freshwater crocodiles are "among the most threatened crocodilians" due to commercial hunting for their skin, the International Union for Conservation of Nature states. The reptiles are native to Southeast Asia but have been considered virtually extinct since the early 1990s. Severely fragmented wild populations exist in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Thailand and are possibly extinct in Kalimantan. An estimated 500-1,000 mature individuals exist in the wild with numbers continuing to decline.

According to a U.S. tannery company, adult Siamese crocodiles reach up to 13 feet and more than 60,000 of farmed species are killed for their skin. It is illegal to trade Siamese crocodile skin in the U.S. or Europe.

China's notorious wildlife trade is banking on the extinction of wild animals. As New Scientist reported, these days, rather than traditional medicine, China has been supplying the increasing demand for luxury items such as ivory, shark fin and rare leathers. For instance, bear bile and gall bladders are being added to luxury cosmetics instead of traditional medicine.

"Fundamentally it's about luxury items and greed," Adam Roberts of Born Free USA told the publication. "Traditional medicine practitioners are becoming less important in the consumption of wildlife parts, and it's transferring more to the big businessmen."

National Geographic listed several other gruesome wildlife trafficking crimes that have occurred in just the past week, including an incident in Russia where authorities seized 525 paws of critically endangered Himalayan bears worth almost $500,000 headed for China. The haul also included nearly 4,000 mink furs, about five pounds of jade and a piece of a mammoth tusk.

In May, Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed the country's wildlife poaching and said that the government is changing laws and increasing punishment on smugglers.

“We take a strong stand against the illegal wildlife trade. In terms of cracking on poaching and combating smuggling, we urgently need to work together with the international community to undertake responsibilities and meet the challenges," President Xi said in a message read by Chinese ambassador to Kenya, Dr. Liu Xianfa. “Protecting the ecological environment and wildlife is our common responsibility."

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