California’s ban on alligator imports could be delayed despite animal rights appeals

California lawmakers are advancing bills that would outlaw sales of new fur coats, ban fur trapping, forbid circuses from using wild animals and restrict the harvesting of canine blood.

Crocodiles and alligators aren’t so lucky.

The Legislature is moving to delay a law that would ban the importation of alligator and crocodile products, such as handbags or shoes, into the state, arguing that the continued importation of those products is necessary for the preservation of the reptile species.

The ban is set to begin in 2020. Assembly Bill 719, sponsored by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, would push it to 2025.

“Without the legal, commercial market for alligator and crocodile products and the revenue it provides for farmers and the above efforts, the ‘ecosystem’ created to save alligators will collapse, with the unintended consequence of providing a market for illegal hunting and poaching,” Rubio argued in a statement presented to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water.

Rubio warned that the ban would also make it harder for universities to get the necessary elements to conduct “groundbreaking medical research.”

The Pet Food Institute, which supports the bill, “indicated that some pet foods contain alligator protein which can help pets with special dietary needs,” according to an analysis presented to the committee.

“Other supporters emphasize the economic importance of the trade in alligator and crocodile products, estimated to be $1 billion annually on a global basis, the need to avoid disruption of that trade, and how the failure of this bill could affect the wetlands restoration efforts funded by the industry in Louisiana,” the analysis found.

The bill is opposed by numerous animal rights groups, including a coalition that includes Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club California and the Center for Biological Diversity.

That animal rights coalition argued in a statement that “there is considerable evidence that international trafficking in wildlife, particularly endangered animals, is a significant problem in California as well as the rest of the United States.”

“Because of the similar appearance of the leather of various crocodiles, alligators, caimans, and gharials, combined with inadequate tracking legal harvest, it is virtually impossible for consumers to distinguish between products made from legally farmed as opposed to wild-caught endangered animals,” the coalition argued, according to the analysis.

Senate staff echoed that concern in a legislative analysis, writing that “this bill could lead to otherwise innocent Californians purchasing products made from wild-caught, endangered animals.

The committee narrowly approved AB 719 on Tuesday and referred it to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.