In the small Javanese village of Kapetakan in Indonesia’s West Java province, Wakira owns a slaughterhouse that produces snake meat and skin. Known locally as “Boss Cobra”, Wakira’s snakeskin factory produces hundreds of meters of snakeskin that are sold to factories in the West and Central Java provinces which they use to make products such as bags, shoes, wallets and belts. The meat is not wasted. Snake meat is believed by some to be a remedy for skin diseases and asthma, as well as an aid to increase virility.
Wakira employs ten workers in his factory and earns up to 15 million rupiah ($ 1,562, £1,000) a month from the factory's production. The price of a bag made from snake skin costs between 150,000 rupiah ($15, £10) and 300,000 rupiah ($ 31, £19), depending on its size. When they reach Western fashion houses their price can increase dramatically, selling for up to $4,000 (£2,500).
The snakes are caught in the wild at 3-4 years, often by villagers, who are paid per snake they capture. Sometimes organized armies of catchers work in groups in the jungles and grassland, settings nets, traps and baited hooks for the blood pythons, larger reticulated pythons and other smaller snakes. Captured snakes are stored in canvas bags and sold to primitive skinning plants, such as Wakira’s.
At the skinning factory, the snake is stunned with a blow to the head from the back of a machete. A hose pipe is forced between its jaws and water is turned on and the reptile fills up - swelling like a balloon. A leather cord is tied around its neck to prevent the liquid escaping. Then its head is impaled on a meat hook, a couple of quick incisions follow, and the now-loosened skin peeled off with a series of brutal tugs - much like a rubber glove from a hand.
The skin is then placed on a board and put in a hot oven to dry out. They are also dyed according to the style and shape of the bag and left on a board to dry out in the sun and then the skin will be sent to a tannery. Once skinned, snakes are left to die, which can take 2–3 days.
Wakira’s factory is just one of the many illegal ones operating in South East Asian countries like Thailand, Cambodia, China and Vietnam. In Indonesia alone the industry employs about 175,000 people of which 150,000 are snake catchers.
The EU, is the world's biggest importer of snake skins. Between 2000 and 2005 it is estimated that 3.4 million snake skins were brought into the EU. Italy is the largest consumer in the world making shoes, bags, belts, and wallets made from reptile skin. Germany is the second largest producer, followed by France. The United States accounts for about 50% of the Italian export market for finished goods; Japan, 35%; the remaining 15% goes to other European markets. A scrub python can be sold for as much as $10,000. The United States alone imports finished products made from reptile skins worth about $257 million a year.
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