Explosive new footage and images supplied to Kindness Project by Farm Transparency Project reveal the appalling conditions in which iconic Australian saltwater crocodiles are being forced to live, on farms owned by luxury French fashion house Hermès.
TW: abuse and killing of animals
Trapped and isolated in a barren, wire cage with no room to even turn around, a three-year-old crocodile gnaws on a maggot-covered chicken bone as it awaits its imminent death. Rows and rows of these horrific conditions make up one crocodile factory farm. According to the RSPCA (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), 135,000 crocodiles are currently retained on farms in the northern territory of Australia.
“At the facility of one of the world’s largest exporters of Nile crocodile skins in Zimbabwe, tens of thousands of crocodiles are confined to concrete pits from birth to slaughter,” said Reilly Park, a PETA student response coordinator. “In their natural habitats, Nile crocodiles can live to up to 80 years old, but at this facility they are slaughtered at the age of around three.”
According to Herpetologist Clifford Warwick, a specialist in reptile biology and welfare, crocodiles are capable of feeling pain and sensitivity to stress. Additionally, they often develop abnormalities and deformities because they can’t walk or swim in their enclosures.
“It’s inherently cruel and unnecessary,” said John Di Leonardo, president of LION (Long Island Orchestrating for Nature). “These animals, they feel pain, they suffer, they want to live just as much as you and I and there’s no need to be using their skins.”
In response to this cruelty, the Kindness Project, a newly formed non-profit organization dedicated to the dismantlement of the animal industrial complex, created the “Drop Croc” campaign to protest against the slaughtering of crocodiles to use their skins for leather. A video obtained by the Farm Transparency Project, an organization with the goal to end commercialised animal abuse and exploitation, was released along with the campaign that showed the crocodiles isolated in small cages in order to protect the quality of their skin.
The slaughtering of crocodiles in the crocodile farms is extensive and abusive according to Alix Livingstone, campaign director for the Kindness Project. First, they are stunned by being electrocuted in water. Then, they are shot in the head with a bolt gun to destroy the brain. However, sometimes this does not work and workers will sever the crocodile’s spinal cord using a hammer and a chisel, then use a probe to scramble their brains.
“As disturbing as they are, we only have to look at these images,” Park said. “Animals have to live with the abuse.”
Every slaughter house has a specific “code of practice,” according to Livingstone. These codes lay out how much room animals must have in their enclosures, what stage they are slaughtered and how to slaughter them. According to the codes of practice for crocodile farms, this horrific way of killing them is completely legal and the most “humane” way to slaughter a crocodile in Australia.
“In any animal protection law, there is always a clause that makes an exception for animals that are being used for farming and human consumption,” Livingstone said. “Then you get into a space where you can do unimaginable things to these animals and it’s perfectly legal.”
According to Park, reptiles are not even included in the protections afforded by the Animal Welfare Act in the United States. “From Texas to Zimbabwe,” Park said. “PETA investigators documented the appalling conditions in which animals are raised and/or killed for ‘luxury’ Birkin bags, belts and watchbands.”
It takes four crocodiles to make just one Hermès Birkin bag, selling for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars. Basically, these unique creatures are being turned into handbags, catering only to the richest 1% of the world.
“It’s such a big part of the luxury fashion culture,” said Zahra Omairat, social media chair of Hofstra University’s fashion club De Moda. According to Omairat, wearing and owning real animal skins shows wealth in the fashion industry. “It signifies high class and high income,” she said. “I think it’s the meaning behind it that pushes people to keep it going.”
However, Omairat believes that fashion is about the expression of oneself and that can be done without brutally torturing and slaughtering animals. There are many vegan leather alternatives that can be sourced from the waste materials of plants.
“Some of the best alternatives to crocodile skin include vegan leather derived from mangoes destined for landfill, that is embossed with crocodilian texture,” said Emma Hakansson, founder of Collective Fashion Justice, an organization working for a fashion system that upholds total ethics, by prioritizing the life of all animals. “Similar embossing is done to cork and recycled PU (polyurethane).”
Although people will argue that using animal skins is sustainable because they are creating the leather in “natural” ways, this is actually untrue. “The leather, in addition to its cruelty, is one of the biggest pollutants,” Di Leonardo said. “All of the chemicals in the tanning process are destroying the environment and destroying water ways.” Additionally, once the skin goes through the tanning process, it can no longer biodegrade.
While cruel and unnecessary, Livingstone understands that a number of people benefit from the crocodile farms. Even though the crocodile farming industry only makes up 0.002% of total employment in the northern territory region, the Kindness Project created a northern territory crocodile industry transition plan. The plan was created to ensure that those employed by the industry will be placed elsewhere. Dr. Mehr Gupta, director of research and strategy at the Kindness Project, found that there are several promising areas that have the potential to not only replace the jobs and revenue brought on by the crocodile farming industry, but surpass them.
Eliminating crocodile slaughter houses from communities would not only save thousands of crocodiles’ lives, but it would also benefit the people living in those communities, according to Di Leonardo. “The slaughterhouses are really taking advantage of these communities,” he said, “polluting them and then forcing them to do horrific things that leave mental scars on them.”
It is someone’s life to wake up every morning, go to work, butally torture and kill a crocodile, come home, eat dinner with their family, go to bed and do it all over again. “The rates of domestic violence and substance abuse are skyrocketing in these communities because a normal person doesn’t want to kill animals everyday,” Di Leonardo said. “That’s sociopathic behavior.”
Di Leonardo believes that as cruelty-free, vegan fashion becomes more popular, the slaughtering of animals for fashion will become obsolete. “People always choose kindness over cruelty,” he said. However, companies like Hermès and Louis Vuitton have yet to choose kindness. Since the release of the Drop Croc campaign, these big fashion companies and the crocodile industry have not commented despite the many protests and outrage that has emerged worldwide.
“Hermès and Louis Vuitton need to follow the path set by other fashion labels like Chanel, Vivienne Westwood, Victoria Beckham and Mulberry,” said Chris Delforce, executive director of the Farm Transparency Project, “by cutting ties with the violent exotic skins industry and switching to vegan materials instead.”
Actress and Animal Activist Evanna Lynch propelled the campaign forward by advocating for it on her Instagram account and #dropcroc continues to circulate the social media platform as people call for fashion companies to drop crocodiles from their collections, in favor of protecting wildlife from cruelty and suffering. “#dropcroc has really taken off all over the world,” Delforce said. “People are rightly shocked at how native Australian wildlife are being treated for luxury fashion.”
Something that Livingstone has found interesting is how many people have resonated with crocodiles. She thought it would be a challenge to get people to care about an animal that can be hard to relate to. “I think that people understand how unethical it is to take a wild living animal and raise them in captivity only to kill them for a handbag,” Livingstone said. “I believe most people realize an animal’s life is far more precious than any fashion accessory ever could be.”
Although there has been a positive global response to the campaign, Livingstone urges people to continue to fight for the protection of crocodiles. “It’s really important to not forget about the crocodiles,” she said. “Too many times, it [an activism issue] comes up, you see it and think, ‘this is terrible,’ you sign a petition and that’s where you leave it.” Livingstone said that she believes if people stay vigilant in calling for kindness towards crocodiles, the fashion companies and crocodile farms will be forced to stop torturing and killing them.
Different animal activism groups have already started protesting world wide. The Kindness Project designated Oct. 23 as the world action day for this campaign. Groups from Spain, Germany, Europe and the U.S. protested outside different fashion stores on this day. “Anybody who wears these handbags is wearing somebody else’s skin and they have blood on their hands for that reason,” said Ellen Dent, co-founder and executive director of the Animal Alliance Network in California.
In the end, it is not necessary for an innocent crocodile to be forced into a small enclosure, tortured and brutally killed. The only people benefiting from this abuse is the wealthiest portion of the population who want another $300,000 handbag to add to their collection even though there are countless vegan leather alternatives that will produce the same aesthetic. “If you want to look chic, then go with an animal-free alternative,” Di Leonardo said, “because no one looks good wearing cruelty.”
If you would like to take action & attend future #DROPCROC events, view the full campaign here.
- Reilly Park
PETA Student Response Coordinator
2. John Di Leonardo
LION (Long Island Orchestrating for Nature) President
3. Alix Livingstone
Kindness Project Campaign Director
4. Zahra Omairat
De Moda Social Media Chair
5. Emma Hakansson
Collective Fashion Justice Founder
6. Chris Delforce
Farm Transparency Project Executive Director