Would you buy a $5,000 snakeskin handbag? Chances are your answer is "no." But for some people with more money than sense, pricey purses made from python or anaconda skin are all the rage.

Pythons and anacondas are not technically endangered or threatened species, although their populations are at risk from unfettered trade. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species "forbids participating countries from allowing export unless they have determined that the skin trade wouldn't hurt the species' survival."

Unfortunately, because neither species is yet officially endangered, trade in their skins is somewhat unevenly restricted. Brazil has laws protecting the anaconda, and California (a haven for haute couture) has a long-standing ban on products made from python. But none of these laws and regulations line up together to form a cohesive or uniform protection status for either species, which creates opportunities for accessory designers and confusion for consumers.

Fashion's current relish for exotic snakeskin may not be as dangerous as the feeding frenzy for illegal fur in certain parts of the world, but give it time. You never know what's going to be "in" next season.

Story by John Platt. This article originally appeared in Plenty in August 2007.

Copyright Environ Press 2007

Low fashion
Laws enable fashion to profit from threatened species.