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Reptile Skin


Down & Feathers


The Byproduct Myth




Rabbits in the Wool Trade

Sheep in the Wool Trade

Judaism and Animals: Is Fur a Jewish Issue?

Islam and Animals: Fur and Other Uses of Animals

Animal Agriculture: Selected Bibliography



Dying to Get
Dressed Up

How Long
Animals Live

How Rabbits
Live & Die

How to Skin
a Rabbit


Wildlife Body Parts, Fur, & Leather

Steel-jaw Traps

Wildlife "Cuisine"





Fur Factory Farming




Cats and Dogs

Big Game and Captive Exotic Mammals


Many of the achievements of animal protection organizations in the past 20 years are now under very aggressive attack by the international fur trade. Fur coats are being seen more often; many designers are no longer embarrassed to present their products, and celebrities are less shy about wearing fur. Canada has reversed many of the limits on seal clubbing. In spite of a ban on the use of cat and dog fur in most EU countries, it is appearing as trim and linings in Europe, supplied from an expanding industry in China.



Trappers use cruel steel-jaw leghold and body gripping (also known as conibear) traps, as well as wire snares, to catch millions of fur-bearing animals every year. Beavers, otters, badgers, opossums, muskrats, nutria, raccoons, foxes, bobcats, lynx, fishers, martens, coyotes, rabbits, and skunks are the victims. Usually, the traps close on their legs, tearing flesh and breaking bones. In panic, the animals will gnaw off their own limbs in an effort to get away. If they somehow survive exposure or starvation, when the trapper claims them, they will be clubbed to death. Traps are non-selective and the trapper will toss away unprofitable kill — commonly a tame dog or cat. More than 10 non-targeted animals are discarded for each one kept. This means that 80 million animals are caught and die for the 8 million killed this way and whose skins are sold into the fur trade.


The trend may be changing as more people vote to protect their wildlife from trapping and torture in the name of luxury. Traps are now banned in almost 100 countries, including Israel, and banned or restricted in some states in the U.S.

REALITY CHECK: Steel-jaw Traps


Fur Factory Farming

All animals on fur farms are bred in captivity to live in suffering and die in agony. They are confined to small wire mesh cages without any natural stimulation and frequently exhibit neurotic behaviors such as pacing and tail biting. They will sometimes cannibalize one another under these conditions, where humane oversight is virtually non-existent. Genetic disorders like deafness and blindness are commonplace because of inbreeding. Mink, foxes, and chinchilla, raised on ranches, account for about half of all pelts used in the clothing industry. In Russia, the United States, and Canada, over 30 million animals are bred and killed each year after their first winter, when their coat is at its best. They are slaughtered by handlers without qualifications and without training, since the entire industry is unregulated. Typically, they are killed by electrocution, gassing, or neck breaking. Additionally, fur processing causes pollution of rivers because of the runoff of chromium, phosphorous, and formaldehyde.


Fur farming is now banned in the United Kingdom. Fox farming is banned in Sweden, Austria, and Holland. In Switzerland, Italy, and New Zealand, new housing regulations for fox breeding make it unprofitable and will likely lead to the closure of existing facilities. Similar requirements for mink and fox in California make it cost prohibitive.






Barely 30 years ago, in response to global protests, the EU banned the import of products made from baby seals. This should have significantly reduced the brutal killing of newborn harp and hooded seals in Canada. In 1993, Canada's Marine Mammal Regulations were amended to prohibit the trade in seal pups. How is it, then, that we see 300,000 killed every year, a figure far greater than when the international community first voiced its outrage? Even with the EU ban still in place, a simple loophole provides the basis for a steady increase in quotas: the Canadian regulations protect the newborn harp seals only until they start shedding their white coat at 1012 days after birth.


Market demand remains high and federal subsidies ensure that this gruesome hunt continues — the single largest attack on marine mammals in the world. The methods haven't changed at all; the seals are killed with clubs and picks or shot out on the ice. Rarely does a sealer check to see if an animal is dead, and reports state that nearly half the time these pups are conscious when skinned. This is what the Canadian authorities consider a humane and well-regulated hunt.



Sheep are used for fur as well as for wool. In Central Asia and South Africa, large herds of Karakul sheep are raised for their prized lustrous coats, which are known as Persian lamb and Astrakhan when used as fur coats and trim. Considered the oldest of all sheep species, the Karakul are able to withstand extremes of heat and cold and can thrive in high altitudes as well as dry desert conditions. The younger the lamb, the more desirable the fur, since it is then at its finest. This means there is a demand for pelts from newborn lambs, and an even greater premium paid for the very satiny fur of the fetuses.


Karakul ewes will produce about five lambs before being considered "spent." During their life, their lambs will be taken immediately from them for slaughter and skinning. For those ewes carrying their last lamb, the time of insemination is carefully tracked so the herders can kill her and retrieve the fetus at the prime moment. At 30 days before birth, the skin is at its softest, similar to silk velvet, and most suitable for delicate items. Then, 7 to 14 days before birth, the texture will become slightly wavy and shiny. From 1 to 3 days old, the coat will be softly curled. Each of these three phases represents a distinct, sought-after market, but together they account for millions of animals destroyed only for exotic garments. There is no meat market; their little broken bodies are tossed aside.


Recently, investigators documented this process carefully, although industry representatives still claim that only stillborn lambs are used. Current reports estimate that 8 million Karakul sheep are slaughtered annually.


A distinct segment of the vast sheep industry, lambs' wool and fur is a two-part market: lambs' wool (the initial shearing occurs shortly after the first year), and shearling fur (the hide with hair taken from the slaughtered yearling lamb). Shearling, also referred to as sheepskin, is simply lambs' skin tanned and dressed with the wool on, then dyed and finished. A typical shearling garment uses 2545 individual hides. In addition, shearling is used for seat covers, rugs, mattress covers, nursery products, gloves, footwear, and hats. Perversely, during the 1990s, when the entire fur market showed a strong decline, sales of shearling actually increased.


With a mortality rate of 20%, many young sheep only a few days old will die of exposure or illness. Their natural life span is 813 years, almost never realized. Held in enormous, unmanageable flocks, with only a single shepherd per thousand, these quiet and shy animals will experience great neglect and suffering. There are over 1 billion sheep worldwide, with the greatest concentration in China, Australia, the Russian Federation, and New Zealand.


Sheep in the Wool Trade






Rabbits are raised for four distinct production markets, none of them overlapping: fur, wool, meat, and vivisection. The UN clearly reports that no fur is retrieved from meat slaughterhouses, where it is discarded or used for fertilizer. Usually described in terms of shipping weight, the worldwide population of farmed rabbits exceeds one million metric tons and yields more than a billion pelts, principally from China. In France alone, 70 million are killed every year for their fur.


The Rex strain of rabbits, bred specifically for their fur, are factory farmed in small hutches less than a meter square that are meant to hold 68, but usually 12 are crammed in together. Like chickens or mink in battery cages, rabbits are doomed to spend their short lives caged in huge, endless sheds. At 67 months, they will be decapitated and bled, or their throats will be cut, or their necks will be broken. Rabbits have a natural lifespan of 1013 years.


The preparation of rabbit pelts for the fur trade is highly labor intensive, but it still requires expertise in handling. In spite of this fact, the UN (through its Food and Agriculture Organization) promotes rabbit husbandry as suitable for developing countries only because rabbits are prolific and breeding stock is cheap. The small pelts are matched into bundles and shipped to manufacturers for garments, gloves, hats, linings, and lap rugs. It takes 3040 rabbit pelts for a coat. Rabbit fur is a major component of the trim industry and is used for collars and cuffs in outerwear, dolls, toys, and novelty gifts. Fur trim alone is thought to be a half-billion dollar industry.

REALITY CHECK: How Rabbits Live & Die

REALITY CHECK: How to Skin a Rabbit

Rabbits in the Wool Trade

Rabbits: Meat


Cats and Dogs

In spite of a deep aversion to the exploitation of companion animals in the West, the market for cat and dog fur is a burgeoning international industry, said to amount to more than 2 million lives a year. Bans exist in the U.S. and in many EU countries, such as Italy, yet these laws set limitations based only on the sales value of an individual item. This means that any inexpensive item is considered completely legal and this category covers the widest use of cat and dog fur, namely as trim or small items with a value under $150. Animal-hair tests reveal that cat and dog fur is commonly used as jackets, linings in garments, boots, gloves, handbags, hats, collars, scarves, lap rugs (sought after in Germany and Switzerland to treat arthritis and rheumatism), dolls, and even toys for cats and dogs themselves. (In addition to clothing, the skin has a broad range of other uses.) And that's just the legal trade.


The main originating sources are China, South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines, where cats and dogs are collected and, more recently, commercially bred and farmed. According to investigators, dogs and cats who were obviously family pets, and who had probably been stolen, are used in this flourishing trade. Rows of crates, tightly stuffed with live cats and dogs, are openly displayed in outdoor stalls across Southeast Asia. The cats are usually snared in a wire loop (garrote) and strangled by hanging. The dogs are muzzled, tethered with their legs often over their backs, and then bled to death by slashing their thighs or paws. They all will be skinned and their fur processed for shipment.


This is an international market of trade, export, import, and re-export designed to blur the origin and exact nature of the pelt. Most typically, the fur is collected in one country, processed in another, and assembled in a third to circumvent import restrictions. Creative labeling and fraudulent mislabeling helps manufacturers and retailers thwart bans and oversight, as well as deceive consumers. Investigators have discovered whole garments for sale in the U.S. and across Europe, in contravention of current bans. At least one reporter revealed active fur trafficking in stolen pet cats from England, whose hides were offered for sale in Belgium.





Big Game and Captive Exotic Mammals

Trading markets in Southeast Asia specialize in exotic, as well as contraband, hides. Zebras, monkeys, yaks, bears, leopards, cheetahs, and tigers, endangered or not, are poached and hunted for their fur. Additional legal trade exists in Canada, South Africa, and the U.S. in horse and pony fur, cowhides, bearskins, as well as all other big game pelts, supplied by hunters, taxidermists, and even game wardens.


These furs are used for a wide array of clothes, such as zebra jackets, pony skin skirts, bear skin hats, and yak boots, and also for decorative accessories like lampshades, furniture upholstery, wall coverings, area rugs, and bedspreads.


Promoted by lobbying groups like Safari Club International ("Take a Kid Hunting") and protected by hunting organizations like the National Rifle Association ("...pass along the tradition to the next generation"), hunting has become a worldwide attack on all wildlife, and especially the largest and most exotic furbearers. There are thousands of dedicated and fenced private legal hunting areas, euphemistically called "game ranches," where paying trophy hunters can shoot confined animals in a restricted setting with a guaranteed no kill, no pay policy. These clubs, or canned hunts, provide tame exotic mammals as easy targets. Collected from game parks, overstocked zoos, small exhibitors, and private owners, these animals are sensitized to humans, sometimes even raised as pets, and will trustingly amble up to their killers. There are no federal laws governing canned hunting in the U.S., and the Endangered Species Act does not prevent private ownership.


Big game is big business for private breeders, animal dealers, and disreputable zoos. You can easily locate choice specimens in the international marketplace, whether it's for wrapping around your body, hanging on your wall, or draping across your floors — you don't really have to bother with the mess of shooting an animal yourself. In an already cruel industry, high-fashion dictates the latest whims:

  • "Pony-skin anything is a must this fall!"

  • "Few home accents can be as stylish or exotic as zebra skin, and it will add a certain je ne sais quoi to any room you choose."

  • "If you've been hankering after a rug made from the skin of an endangered species, let us put your mind at rest. It has now become necessary for certain numbers of Burchell's zebra (Equus Burchellii) to be culled on a regular basis."

  • "Bears, when made into rugs by true craftsmen, are always mounted with an open mouth and lots of flashing teeth for effect!"

  • "At the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, there are the soldiers themselves dressed in bright red coats with shiny buttons, smart black trousers, and bear fur hats. They look too perfect to be true."

If you want to wear a fur hat like the Queen's Guards, you'll need 23 bears.