Illegal python skins worth an estimated $1 billion are being importedinto Europe every year to feed growing demand for the luxury leather, according to anew report.Nearly 500,000 skins are shipped on the black market from southeast Asia every yearto grace the windows of Europe's fashion houses, particularly in France, Germanyand Spain, a report by the Python Conservation Partnership found.The rising demand from major brands like Calvin Klein and Jimmy Choo, which usethe exotic patterned skin to make handbags, shoes and jackets, is depleting wildpopulations of the giant snake.Instead, the report said commercial python farming, previously deemed unviable asthe snakes take too long to mature and are difficult to feed and breed in captivity,could be the answer."This report offers a possible alternative solution to the sourcing of python skins forwhich demand is escalating," said Jean-Christophe Vie, a senior executive at theInternational Union for Conservation of Nature, which backed the study."However, there is still some way to go towards more transparent, better managedpython farming."The study is the first published by the Python Conservation Partnership, which isbacked by the owner of luxury fashion house Gucci, Kering, and the IUCN.Pythons are already farmed commercially in China and Thailand and some inVietnam, according to the report.But in Indonesia and Malaysia, the top suppliers of Asia's reticulated python and theBurmese python, the snakes are still caught in the wild as they have been for almosteight decades. Even skins that claim to be from farms in Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysiashould be "treated with caution" as laundering of python hides is so widespread inthese countries, the study found.The report recommended using specialist techniques such as DNA or isotope testingto help identify whether a skin is really farmed or taken from the wild.Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer at Kering, said such changes wouldhelp fashion houses "to enhance traceable, sustainable sourcing" and so move the"industry towards more informed decisions in python sourcing".