Royal stationer sells gifts made of rare lizard skins


Smythson, the Queen's stationer which employs the wife of the Conservative leader, David Cameron, as its creative director, is selling luxury gifts bound with the skins of rare lizards.

The Independent has discovered that the fashionable store is offering its wealthy clientele at least a dozen products made from the hides of wild reptiles for between £250 and £1,200.

Although legal, conservationists say the trade in "exotic leather" is barbaric and damaging to wild populations of scarce species. According to one expert, the animals are often skinned alive.

Smythson declined to deny the alleged cruelty but stated that it had the necessary permits for the sale of the products under the Convention in the Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

Founded in 1887, the retailer has become highly fashionable thanks to Samantha Cameron, and is a supplier to the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh – the honorary president of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) – and the Prince of Wales. Most of its wallets, purses, notepads and bags are made from the hides of domestic meat animals such as pigs as well as farmed ostriches and alligators. At its shops in New Bond Street and Sloane Street in London and online it sells at least a dozen items upholstered with wild lizards. They are not included in brochures nor advertised in store. Smythson declined to identify the species used. But details of import permits for lizards have been obtained from Animal Health, a Government agency, using freedom of information legislation. Three main species have been brought into the UK by businesses: the Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus); common tegu (Tupinambis merianae); and the water monitor (Varanus salvator). All are listed under Appendix II of Cites – although they are not threatened with extinction, their trade must be controlled "in order to avoid utilisation incompatible with their survival".

Clifford Warwick, a biologist who has witnessed lizards being snared and then macheted, said: "The hunters will then cut their heads off and skin them. In most cases they are alive when they are skinned." The animals had such a slow metabolism that when decapitated, they could be alive for up to an hour, he said. "If most people witnessed it they simply wouldn't buy these things," he added. "It's unfortunate when people with such a high profile as the Royal Family are using a shop selling products with such an awful history."

The retailer said in a statement that it sought to meet industry "best practice". It added: "Where this relates to exotic leathers, which represent less than 0.5 per cent of our business, all products are sourced from suppliers who comply with the relevant Cites legislation and we hold Cites documentation for the exotic products traded."

Lizards brought to Britain

Although it remains uncertain which types of lizard have been used, three species have been imported into the UK in recent years, according to the government agency Animal Health.

*The Nile monitor, a member of the Varanidae family and found in Africa, is renowned for a fierce temperament, with its powerful bite and lashing tail.

*The South American common tegu is more often found in the pet trade. Argentina's black and white variety is said to be the most docile of the species while the gold, or Colombian tegu, is smaller, up to four feet long.

*Close in size to the Komodo dragon, water monitors are a larger lizard that can grow up to 10 feet long. They have muscular bodies with long, powerful tails and are opportunistic in their feeding. They eat small mammals, from rats to monkeys, and it has been known for larger adults to attack deer. The water monitor, from south-east Asia, has been designated a protected species in Hong Kong.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent