It’s not just living snakes you need to worry about. It’s dead ones too, or at least their skins, if you are importing products into Australia that contain these, which would include some luxury fashion items.
Many of the most desirable fashion accessories – handbags, belts, shoes etc are made from the skins of various reptiles, including snakeskin and crocodile skin. Imports of these products into Australia may be prohibited, even where the animal skin is just a part of the item, not necessarily the whole thing. If the products are determined to be prohibited, they will be seized by ACBPS (Australian Customs and Border Protection Service).
The reason for this is that Australia is a signatory of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. CITES entered into force in 1975 with the aim of protecting the trade in endangered animals and plants and today gives some form of protection to over 34,000 different species. 179 countries are signatories to CITES, with Australia signing up in 1976.
Only recently delegates from top European fashion houses (Gucci for example) attended a CITES conference to discuss how to stop illegal trading in snake skins, specifically python skins, since most pythons are a ‘regulated species’ covered by CITES, which means that import and export licences and quotas apply. The challenge for the fashion houses is how to tell the difference between a legally imported snakeskin and an illegal one. So they are working with CITES to put in place a way of tracing python skins from the ‘marsh to the market’. However this will only work if all signatory countries set up the same system, otherwise illegal skins will get mixed in with legal ones.
Previously it was the alligator that was threatened by extinction because of the fashion-driven demand for alligator skin. CITES restricted trade in alligator skins, and this is attributed with saving the species. With the trade in python skins estimated at over $1BN worldwide, and with some fashion items made from animal skin fetching up to $60,000 in store, CITES and the fashion houses are very keen indeed that python species are protected from extinction.
Where individuals and importers can get into hot water is buying these items on online auction sites. For example a recent auction based in the US listed a total of 275 bags, including a secondhand (but mint condition) Birkin brand bag made from crocodile skin estimated to be worth $60,000-$70,000. Some brands and styles are very collectible and consequently can appreciate greatly in price.
If you buy one of these items, you must have your paperwork in order to bring it in to Australia, and ACBPS need to have this before the goods arrive in Australia.