Python skin spurs controversy--Animal rights activists, like Pretender Chrissie Hynde, protest a trend

By Lori L. Tharps
Updated March 24, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

It’s not a good time to be a snake. Ever since python was officially declared the ”in skin,” there’s been a surge of all things python, from Versace sunglasses to Chanel stilettos worn by celebs including Cameron Diaz, Charlize Theron, and Jane Krakowski.

But, along with its anti-leather campaign, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is trying to get stars to slither out of the sinful skin. Turns out there is a prosperous black market for python in countries like India and Indonesia, where traders capture the up-to-23-foot-long, rodent-eating creatures and skin them alive. (Coincidentally, says PETA’s Dan Mathews, ”the rat population in India has exploded.”) Though pythons are not an official endangered species, they are at risk, which is why California outlawed the sale of all python products more than 20 years ago, and why Diaz imported her Golden Globes snakeskin pumps from Paris.

”It’s a cruel industry,” opines Oklahoma breeder Mike Wilbanks, who recognizes the difficulty of raising sympathy for the reptiles he sells as pets. ”They’re not baby seals.” As Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde, arrested at an anti-leather protest in New York March 9, puts it: ”When I see something made of python, I’m looking at stolen goods.” Efforts to get designers to comment on the python controversy turned up snake eyes.