The skins of reptiles have been used to make handbags for centuries. Since the 19th century, they have become the most desired fashion status symbols. As a result, the uncontrollable appetite for the natural beauty of exotic skins brought some fauna species to virtual extinction. From thousands of recognized reptile species, several hundreds are listed as threatened or endangered. Consequently, the urgency of the problem has prompted the implementation of high-scope environmental programs, conducted worldwide in order to recuperate the endangered species, and to develop a ranching industry.
Data recently compiled by the FAAC (the Louisiana Fur and Alligator Advisory Council) confirms that American Alligator has been hunted in the wild since the 19th century, at first by the thousands. The earliest record of alligator products, such as shoes, boots and saddles, dates back to the 1880s. During the American Civil War, alligator leather was used to make boots for soldiers. Since then, alligator products began to rise in importance for fashion accessories. Through the 1930s, millions of mature alligators were hunted for their skin. As a result of lack of regulations, the population of the American Alligator had dwindled to a mere 100,000 animals.
Consequently, in 1962, the State of Louisiana banned the hunting of alligators. In 1967, the American Alligator was put on the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) list. The necessary legislative initiatives were introduced in 1970 to support the development of commercial harvesting. From 1962 to 1972, extensive research was conducted of the population of the American Alligator and its reproduction, in order to protect the species as a sustainable resource.
The appropriate corrective legislation, as well as support of the industry, created the proper environment for promotion of conservation measures, which resulted in the successful rescuing of the American Alligator from extinction. "In 1987, the Fish and Wildlife Service pronounced the American alligator fully recovered and consequently removed from the list of the endangered species. Although the American Alligator is secure, some related animals - such as several species of crocodiles and caimans - are still in trouble. For this reason, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) continues to protect the alligator under the ESA classification as "threatened due to similarity of appearance" (American Alligator, U.S.Fish & Wildlife Service, 2011). The USFWS Law Enforcement office thus regulates the harvest of alligators and legal trade in products made from their skins (brand-new or vintage, pre-owned or used), as part of efforts to prevent the illegal take and trafficking of endangered "look-alike" reptiles.
Please note that, as we learned in August 2011, vendors are required to buy an Export-Import License and FWS Permit to ship overseas your vintage handbags made from various skins, which are considered "wildlife." This new regulation applies to everybody, regardless if you're a business or an individual. The FWS Export-Import License costs $50 a year; and the FWS Permit is $165 per shipment (handbag). In order to fill in the application form, you will have to provide the common and scientific name of the species your handbag is made from, as well as the exact date of its production and tanning. You are also required to provide the address, where you store your bags, and the address of your customer in a foreign country. "Any person who knowingly violates any provision of the ESA may be fined up to $50,000 or imprisoned for up to 1 year, or both" (US Department of Interior, FWS Office of Law Enforcement). In addition, your inventory could be confiscated.
For the detailed information, contact your regional USFWS office.