Under the Endangered Species Act it is illegal to bring into the United States many products made from the skin of alligators, crocodiles or related reptiles called caimans. If brought into the United States, watchbands, shoes, purses, belts and other goods made from endangered species can be confiscated with no recompense to the owner. It is quite difficult to determine on your own which species an item is made of, and buyers must rely on the word of merchants that their goods may legally be brought back home.

Items made of American alligator — generally exported from this country and then processed and often sold abroad — are not endangered and may be brought into the United States, so long as they are for personal, not commercial, use. The skins of most crocodile species are prohibited. Of three species of caiman, which live in Central and South America, two are banned. One of these, Caiman crocodilus yacare, is often passed off as the common caiman, the species that is legal. Only an expert to tell the skins apart, a spokesman for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service said. Lizard-skin products originally from Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela and India, Nepal and Pakistan are banned, as are snakeskin products originating in Latin America and some Asian countries, including India, and all sea turtle products.

When a traveler arrives in the United States with an item made of reptile skin (or any other possibly endangered species like coral), Customs agents inspect the goods. Any questionable items are then inspected by a Fish and Wildlife agent, who may take the goods away either permanently or until it can be further examined by experts. Generally, forfeiture is the penalty for bringing in banned products, though repeat offenders, especially those trying to smuggle quantities of such goods, can be fined up to $25,000.

How are alligator skin used?

Manufacturers of alligator products use many parts of the hide. Most often, the skins from the belly are used to create the larger pieces such as purses, handbags and briefcases. Some ruggedly attractive horn-back boots are made from the back of the alligator. Smaller accessories, like bracelets, money clips, and lipstick holders can come from all parts of hide.

Frequently Asked Questions

Some consumers are reluctant to purchase alligator boots, it is because they are endangered. Here are the frequently asked questions of the consumers before they purchase alligator boots.

Is the American alligator endangered? No. Not only has the American alligator population exploded in recent years, the American alligator has been off the endangered species list since 1987.

Where does the leather come from? Larger pieces such as purses, handbags and briefcases are made with leather from the belly; some boots are made from the back of the alligator; and smaller accessories can come from all parts of the hide. dying affect the value of alligator leather? No. All alligator skins are dyed after the tanning process. The various colors applied are based on the latest fashion trends and consumer demands; the dyes themselves do not increase or decrease the value of the alligator leather.