When talking about fur we should first differentiate its origin, it may come from a farm or it may be from an animal captured in the wild. Below we look into this topic in more detail.
Most furs come from farms, not captured wild animals. Fur farms are where animals are bred for the sole purpose of using their skins.
Out of the wide variety of animals which are used in the fur industry, the ones bred in farms have the following characteristics: their fur is of great quality, there is an established market for them and they put up with a life in captivity a bit better than others. The main fur farms in Europe are in Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands. Globally China is the main importer and exporter of fur.
The first fur farm was of foxes. Currently the main species bred on farms are minks and arctic foxes, although red foxes, raccoons, sables, coypus, chinchillas and rabbits are also bred for their furs.
The animals are intensively farmed in massive facilities, crammed into small metal cages with no kind of environmental enrichment and with no chance of any kind of natural behaviour. The bottom of the cages are made of wire mesh so that the excrement falls onto the floor below and facilitates cleaning. However, the animals’ feet are not adapted to this type of surface and they can sustain injuries and they are in a constant state of uncertainty. Their sharp sense of smell is affected by the stench of excrement and urine, of the other caged animals as well as their own. The cages are placed next to each other, which means the animals can see each other. This is particularly stressful for those species which are solitary animals such as the mink, or species with complex social hierarchies like foxes. Furthermore, the intensive overcrowding makes it impossible for animals to run, swim, climb, dig or cover large distances.
Out of boredom, frustration and deprivation of a biologically and socially appropriate environment to which they can adapt, fur farm animals tend to show clear signs of stress. This is manifested by carrying out stereotypic behaviour, which is repetitive obsessive behaviour with no apparent aim. It can be expressed by apathy, biting their own tail, biting the bars of the cage, practicing cannibalism on the other animals in their cages, showing signs of aggression among themselves, moving from one side of the cage to the other constantly following the same route, etc.
In order to make a fur coat they have to kill: 12-15 lynxes, 10-15 wolves or coyotes, 15-20 foxes, 60-80 minks, 27-30 raccoons, 10-12 beavers or 60-100 chinchillas.
In the fur industry the animals are slaughtered for their coats when they are 7-10 months old. This is not the case for females, which stay in cages for 4-5 years, forced to have new offspring every year. 3 or 4 young survive from each litter. The males are slaughtered at about 7 months.
The animals are often inbred selectively in order to choose specific characteristics like certain colours. This leads to severe abnormalities, such as deafness, lameness, deformities in the sexual organs, anaemia, sterility, nervous system disorders, excessive bleeding and high susceptibility to illnesses. They can also restrict and alter the amount of daily light the animals receive in order to achieve certain desired effects on the fur.
Regarding the slaughter of the animals, farmers tend to use the cheapest methods, such as suffocation, electrocution, poisoning or gassing. For the fur industry the most important thing is that the skin is not torn, and the above methods cause death to the animal without damaging the fur. American minks are usually killed by wringing their necks or with carbon monoxide, which is a slow and painful death. Foxes are normally electrocuted, electrodes are put into their mouth and anus, and the electric shock kills them.
85% of fur comes from animals bred in captivity on fur farms. The rest come from animals which have been captured using traps, in their natural habitat. Otters, foxes, wolves, raccoons, wild cats, beavers and possums are some of the species hunted using leg traps, which completely destroy the animal’s leg.
Hunters are generally only professionals in predominantly wooded regions where game is abundant, which is often in economically poor areas. In countries where game is not abundant, like Spain, there are no professionals and if they manage to get animal pelts, it is thanks to their hobby. Professional hunters, or trappers, only hunt species which have a high ratio of abundance to price. However, overhunting a species means less animals in the coming years, meaning a drop in profits. Also, diminishing the population of a species means it will be harder to catch.
The animals which are taken for their pelts using traps are not the only ones to suffer, the traps are not intelligent and often other animals which are of no use to the fur industry get caught in the traps. Those which do manage to escape are seriously injured, suffering heavy blood loss, gangrene, infections or are simply easy victims for their predators. It is calculated that 10 animals are accidentally trapped for each one which can be sold for its fur. Trade in wild pelts has caused the decline in population of numerous species and even the extinction and extermination of others.
The traps pulverise bones, cut tendons, rupture the flesh and tear through the nerves causing a long period of agony for the animal. Because of the pain the animals struggle persistently to escape. Some animals even get to the point of gnawing through their own legs in order to free themselves.
Shockingly, although the Convention of Washington prohibits trade in the furs of certain wild animals like the cheetah, the tiger, the jaguar and the leopard, special licenses may be issued in certain exceptional circumstances.