Fur

It takes up to 40 dumb animals to make a fur coat… but only one to wear it! No wonder Fur Free Friday (the fourth Friday of November) is one of the most widely supported days for animals worldwide.


As far as the quality of suffering goes, the substance in our attire that is of grave concern is fur. Next to food, fur is probably the main reason for which animals are killed in great numbers and in many instances in a far more terrible manner than food animals. While both meat and fur can be dismissed as unnecessary for our survival, one may excuse those who still defend the need for meat in their diet, on the grounds of thoughtless slavery to tradition and of ignorance of facts. The use of fur, however, cannot be and is not defended even by its producers who commercially gain, and users, as a necessity. They very well know that furs satisfy only vanity, a very insensitive desire for physical luxury, not a “need” in any sense of the word. The production of veal and the method of roasting pigs alive after beating them with rods to bring the blood to the surface are instances for food production that are akin to the nature of demand in the production of fur which surpasses intense cruelty.


Cruelty for Vanity


Beauty Without Cruelty International headquarters initiated the anti-fur and trapping movement in England way back in 1959. Later it spread to other countries and has been taken up seriously by many organisations world-wide. Although Beauty Without Cruelty is totally anti-trapping, for years the organisation worked on the so-called humane trap standards and has influenced Governments particularly with regard to a so-called international trapping standard being promoted by ISO. Beauty Without Cruelty also approached the Director, Food & Agriculture, Bureau of Indian Standards concerning India’s stand. A detailed representation based on general, procedural, scientific and legal grounds was submitted pointing out how important it is that India votes against the proposed standards, particularly as it would be in keeping with our country’s laws prohibiting trapping under The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (as amended up to 1991).

If from the wild, fur of animals is obtained illegally and through terribly cruel trapping methods. Standardising traps can never be the answer — abolishing them is — therefore approving specifications would be like condoning trapping, an action no different to accepting so-called humane slaughter. Traps and snares are laid in forest areas only to be checked days or weeks later. Meanwhile the trapped creature caught in the powerful jaws of the trap (may not even be a fur bearing animal in which case is “trash” for the trapper) suffers intense pain, broken bones, terror, starvation, exposure to elements, etc. often resulting in hideously chewing its own trapped limb in a bid to escape. A trap can not distinguish between a companion and wild animal as a result of which many dogs that have wandered into forest areas have met with gruesome amputation and death. It is the same all over the world: fur is synonymous with cruelty for vanity.

In 2019 and 2020 hundreds of barbed wire snares laid down in forests by poachers killed or seriously injured scores of tigers, hundreds of leopards and other wildlife that suffered and died in agony. Even within Rathambore a tiger was not spared following which the forest department became alert. Concealed on the ground, in foliage or placed near the eggs in nests, snares aim at trapping unsuspecting wild birds and animals. A snare cuts into the body of the creature and the more it struggles the deeper it cuts. It usually suffers amputation and bleeds to death. Earlier poachers used creepers and bamboo traps, now they utilize binding wires used for construction work, wires from solar fences and bike clutch cables because they are cheap, effective and easy to hide. Poachers also using handmade bombs and a box containing those that were confiscated exploded at night in the locked office of the Forest Department at Pune.


The Bhavariya and Pardi tribes of Madhya Pradesh use steel jaw-traps – for tigers too. The trap consists of teeth-like jagged edges held together by springs and linked to a round pan. It is firmly buried in the ground and covered by dry leaves. To ensure that the animal steps on the trap, cut branches and bushes are laid on either side of its presumed route. When the animal steps on it, the jaws open and quickly clamp shut over its paw. The more it struggles the deeper the jagged edges of the jaws cut into its flesh, sometimes down to the bone. There is no way the animal can escape unless it chews off its paw which some have done in desperation. If left undetected and not killed by the poacher, the animal dies of fear, pain and hunger.

In July 2012 an attempt was made to poach tigers by placing jaw traps in the Biligiriranganathaswamy Tiger Reserve (BTR) Karnataka. The six poachers arrested were from Odisha and upon interrogation revealed that they first hid themselves inside a small cave in the forest reserve and studied tiger movements. They then strategically placed jaw traps, activated only in the night. The modus operandi was to pierce the trapped animal’s eyes with a sharp object and smash its head. The poachers were also involved in selling wild animal pelts.

Such cruel, metal jaw traps, that slam down on the animals’ limbs and cut deep, have been used by poachers hailing from Madhya Pradesh too. In 2002 these jaw traps laid by them were first found placed in the Nagarahole National Park. A year later, poachers who set up these traps at the Bandipur National Park got arrested. In 2008 again, two poachers were arrested after the staff of Veeranahosahalli forest area recovered jaw traps. And, in 2011 it was suspected that a tiger at Bandipur National Park died due to being caught in a jaw trap.

85% of furs are obtained from “farms” or “ranches” as they are termed are undoubtedly also products of cruelty. The animals are specially bred only to be killed through strangulation, gas or electrocution. For example rabbit fur is used for a wide range of products like footwear, handbags, caps, hats, coats, mufflers and gloves. These items are commonly seen displayed by shops in hill stations and at Kashmir emporiums.

Some times cat fur/skin items are also found in shops. Although it is more likely that they are from China, in India certain tribes kill cats. Periodically people inform BWC that they have seen gypsies stalking cats in cities. In 2014, a lad from Kapurthala (Punjab) wrote about cats being hunted with the help of dogs and sticks and that his inquiries had revealed that they were killed for making medicines.


Cat meat is a delicacy for gypsies such as the Narikoravas living in Chennai. They catch mainly pet cats in nets, drug and stuff them into plastic gunny bags. During 2015 cat flesh was found to be passed off in chicken biryani sold on roadsides, and a large number of cat skins were recovered from their colonies. These gypsies not only clandestinely butcher cats for meat and fur, but in 2016 they were invited to net pigeons at the airport.


Fur Farming and Karakul Lambs in India


Although Beauty Without Cruelty had received an assurance from the Government of India that plans for mink farming were dropped, plans to specially breed other species of fur bearing animals were announced in 1981. A petition of over 150,000 signatures in protest (including 105 Members of Parliament each representing about 500,000 persons) was therefore submitted by BWC in 1982 to the then Prime Minister. Although the breeding of rabbits (which continues – more information available at http://www.bwcindia.org/Web/Awareness/LearnAbout/Rabbits.html) and Karakul lambs was not stopped then, no new animals were bred to be killed under the proposed scheme of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

However in 1989, after 13 years of working on the issue from many different angles (including appealing to a Joint Parliamentary Committee set up for the purpose) BWC was able to achieve unimaginable success when the ICAR reluctantly gave in to our pleas and scrapped their Karakul lamb project. Karakul lambs imported from the former USSR were being bred for slaughter within 48 hours of their birth. In order to forestall Karakul lamb farming in the country, BWC purchased the entire flock of sheep which were shifted to Deesa in Gujarat where they lived out their natural lifespan.

When in 1988 the then President of India, R Venkataraman and his Secretary Gopalkrishna Gandhi (grandson of Mahatma Gandhi) visited USSR they were presented with Karakul lamb caps, but they refused to accept them because they were aware via BWC of the cruelty and killing involved. 


Then in January 1990, BWC presented the then Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh, a faux Karakul lamb cap with a request that he stop using his Astrakhan/Persian/Karakul lamb fur cap. In response, the late PM wrote “… As you can see I have been wearing it since the day I got it. Sometimes things are done without the awareness of the background. I have always stood for those who are voiceless. Therefore my decision to switch to an artificial fur cap as soon as I was informed of the cruelty involved. I thank you again…”


Fur Smuggling


In 1990 Beauty Without Cruelty discovered that mink coats were being sold by furriers in Delhi and Mumbai. On making enquiries it was found that mink was imported into India, mainly from USA and Canada, as “rags” or “shoddy wool” or “pre-mutilated woollen rags”. Assurance was given by the concerned Government authorities that such illegal imports would be prevented.

Fake, faux or simulated fur as it is known and labelled, is the alternative but it may not always be vegan (synthetic) since it is also made from animal wool. However, there are many who do not like to wear this fur either as it reminds them of animals’ pelts. Fish fur denotes poor quality fur which could be from an animal or fake. Fish skin is the leather of fish, whereas, fur-bearing trout or furry trout is a fictional creature.


For decades the drummers of the Indian Navy at the Republic Day Parade had leopard skin trimmings on their uniforms although they now utilise fake fur.

The use of animal fur represents the murder of innocent animals and this is being acknowledged internationally, even by those in the trade. Why else did a female furrier take legal action against the organisation which put up a signboard graphically depicting a fur coat with blood trailing along with the words: It takes up to 40 dumb animals to make a fur coat but only one to wear it? Animals are trapped, snared, shot, clubbed, strangled, gassed or electrocuted to death for their fur – and for human vanity.

Very many animal activists are seen publicly objecting to celebrities wearing fur by throwing things like flour on them; others have been appealing to people to stop wearing fur by informing them of the gory details of fur production. Meanwhile, more and more people are using simulated fur and proudly displaying buttons stating slogans such as “Make No Mistake, my Fur is Fake!” and “Worn with Pride, No Animal Died”.

In 2008, the Italian Association for Defense of Animals and the Environment has spearheaded a campaign urging Pope Benedict XVI (an animal lover reference a book for children “Chico and Joseph” based on himself and a live cat called Chico) to stop wearing an ermine-trimmed hat and cape.

The cost of an item should never be the criteria for judging whether it is of animal origin or not. Very cheap stuff can very well contain fur, silk, leather, e.g. Chinese made cat and dog fur knickknacks. After a long and vocal campaign focusing on Chinese fur products, supported by Sir Paul McCartney and others, in 2007 the EU banned trade in cat and dog fur. The law became effective in January 2009 following which in 2010 the USA also passed The Dog and Cat Protection Act prohibiting any trade in dog and cat fur.

In 2009 Israel was also seen to be moving in the right direction when two top retail fashion chains removed all animal fur items after an investigation confirmed that their garments contained dog, cat and rabbit fur. Almost all textile products are imported from China and those containing animal/real fur were often mislabelled as fake fur, thus deceiving importers, retailers and consumers. The International Anti-Fur Coalition pointed out that it was cheaper to produce animal fur than synthetic fur in China. Any way, four years later, politicians managed to continue postponing an anti-fur bill being passed. It would make Israel the only nation in the world to ban fur – rather almost ban it because the import of fur for religious traditions, like the Shtreimel fur hats (typically made from sable or fox fur) would probably be exempted. Eventually in June 2021 Israel became the world’s first country to ban fur sales, but although the government felt the use of skin and fur for the fashion industry was “immoral” they allowed exceptions for the use of fur in “scientific research, education or instruction, and for religious purposes or tradition”.


Trying Hard to Come Back


Unfortunately in 2010 fur made an international come back. Not that the public was less sensitive, but fashion designers looking for some thing to propel them into prominence utilised fur in their fall collections. The global trend to wear fox, coyote, mink, etc. was nothing but a massive marketing campaign by furriers, catching the young and giving free samples. Plus many designers experimented with fur trimmings on coats for men.


This was followed by a bigger effort to project and showcase nutria as a “Righteous Fur” in America. Ironically, it is a non-profit organisation working to preserve the Louisiana swamp that is encouraging the killing of the rodent for its fur. The people who use it claim to be guilt-free, feeling it is all right to use fur of an animal that was unwanted and killed any way.


The worst is when celebrities wear fur. The British Queen, Elizabeth II, is strongly accused by animal rights campaigners of setting a bad example whenever she adorns a fur hat and matching coat with fur trim. Again on Christmas 2013 she was seen wearing a fur coat which angered animal rights activists so she changed her coat for the traditional church service.


In 2012 fur neckwear and other accessories in fur, leather and even feather necklaces for men appeared. This disturbing trend from Italy and Japan gave products manly names and styles such as calling scarves neckwear.


Later in the year Denmark’s mink fur industry got boosted by buyers from China and Russia due to early winter with heavy snow in those countries. In fact, a third of Denmark’s exports to China were mink. Denmark’s Kopenhagen Fur produces as much as a quarter of the world’s mink. China also produces mink but it isn’t as good a quality as that of Denmark because mink are delicate creatures and susceptible to contaminated water, etc, when reared to be killed. Fur makers and designers therefore tend to buy mink in Denmark and sable in Russia for 40% more than what they’d pay for these poor animals’ pelts in China.

 

In 2014 the latest ‘it’ animal fur accessory for fashionistas was Fendi’s Bag Boy Karlito designed by Karlito Lagerfeld. (Ironically, he promotes his own Siamese cat called Choupette.) The disgusting limited-edition pom-pom, bag-bug, figurine, charm, doll, key-chain or whatever, attracted more than 600 names on a wait-list to purchase the US$1,700 item. It was modelled to match the 80-year old designer’s own signature monochrome uniform and the three animal species’ furs used in its making were silver fox for the torso, the sunglasses black mink, and the coloured ponytail of goat.


Then in 2015 Fendi projected fur a “full-year item” with summer fur made to look like velvet. In utter desperation of wanting to use fur, it doesn’t have the ostentatious side of fur.

 

Animal activists found hats trimmed with real fur but labelled “faux” for sale at Dobbies in UK during 2015 which again proved there was really no demand for animal fur any more. Following complaints and proof that the trim was not synthetic as stated on the label, the store was forced to withdraw the hats.


The global production of mink rose to 84 million in 2015. 85% was mink from fur farms, with China becoming a major producer of pelts.

In 2016, it was widely reported that furs and skins were being embraced by designers, hip-hop stars, and China’s wealthy, amid a push to make the life and death of captive animals more humane: mink farms in Poland, caiman farms in Colombia, ostrich farms in Thailand were some of the places where these creatures were being bred to be turned into carcasses and paraded at fashion shows in New York, Paris, London and Milan. Sadly, almost two-thirds of the women’s fall 2016 collections in major fashion week shows included fur clothing. At the fur auction houses (Kopenhagen Fur in Denmark is the world’s largest) there is no way of knowing from which farm (so-called humane or not) which pelt originated and they can very well end up together in the same lot. The European fur industry is therefore said to be working on a new Wellfur label but it must first inspect and grade thousands of farms which is next to impossible.


In April 2017 a Sky News investigation found real animal fur sold as fake on British high streets. They were either mis-labelled or not labelled at all. The furs were those of rabbit, raccoon, dog, mink and cat from China. This just proves how desperate the furriers are to sell animal fur.


In 2018 the British Fashion Council announced that the London Fashion Week in September would be fur-free. This was based on a survey asking designers if they planned on using fur in view of the anti-fur demonstrations becoming more forceful and a growing number of designers and celebrities shunning animal fur. Since Lady Dowding founder of Beauty Without Cruelty pioneered the anti-fur initiative in England in the 1950s, this development although decades later is internationally significant for BWC as an organisation. (Burberry, Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Michael Kors and Prada no longer utilise fur in their collections.)


Collapsing Fur Farms


By end 2020 the COVID-19 virus had infected minks in The Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Italy Lithuania, Sweden, Greece, Canada and the US. The virus also escaped into the wild in USA.

In June 2020 The Netherlands, the fourth largest exporter of mink pelts (after China, Denmark and Poland) began suffocating their 800,000 animals by carbon monoxide and dioxide gas (same way as they are killed for fur) with the aim of shutting down the industry due to a rise in COVID-19 cases among employees of the farms. In any case they had planned to end this industry in 2024.

In November 2020 Denmark (that had begun in 2009 to phase out its fox fur market by 2023) ordered all its 17 million mink bred on all its fur farms (1,500+) to be killed. Since 1 in every 5 mink farm animals had caught COVID-19 and it had mutated inside them, the government was worried that the mutant virus would spread to humans and dodge the new vaccines.


Spain also ordered the culling of 92,700 mink on a farm because it was suspected that the corona virus reached the farm through a worker who passed it on to the animals.


Like The Netherlands, Norway and Belgium began phasing out fur farming in 2020. Ireland, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Ukraine and Estonia were considering it, whereas UK, Austria and Croatia had already banned it. Unfortunately, countries such as China and Finland did not agree to ban fur farming. Although China curtailed its wildlife trade in fur and meat; and in May 2020 dogs were declared as companion animals, not livestock.

In view of France’s attitude to wild animals having changed in September 2020, the government announced that it planned to gradually ban mink farms, the use of wild animals in travelling circuses and the breeding of dolphins and killer whales in captivity in their existing three dolphinariums; moreover no new dolphinariums would be built.

A year later in September 2021 Kering, the parent company of the French high-end fashion brand Yves Saint Laurent announced that bowing to animal rights pressure, YSL would next year onwards stop using fur in its collections. Within the Kering group, Gucci was the first to drop fur in 2017, followed by Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta and Alexdander McQueen.


In October 2021 the cabinet approved legislation that would ban fur farming in Ireland as well as establishing a compensation scheme for fur farmers that would be forced to close – approximately 120,000 mink on three farms. This was in line with the government’s commitment to prohibit the breeding of mink solely for their fur.


Otters and Others


In India otters known as udbilao or pani ka kutta are protected under law but the illegal trade in their pelts/fur is closely linked to the poaching of tigers and leopards. About 25% of wild animal skins seized in North India are those of otters. In fact, otters are found all over the country from Kashmir to Kerala. They are either caught using the leg-hold trap or hunted with the help of nomads using hounds, whereas poaching of other wild life like big cats, wild boars, neelgai, etc. is mainly through electrocution, snaring, shooting and poisoning – often poisoning salt licks. Unfortunately, certain species of wild animals and birds have been declared as vermin in some states and killed, for example, 200 neelgai were culled (read shot dead) in Bihar during June 2016. (Neelgai and wild boar in Bihar, wild boar in Uttarakhand, and monkeys in Himachal Pradesh have been notified as vermin by the Government of India.)

The traditional Tibetan dress called chuba has an otter skin margin as a protection against wet weather conditions. The xianmou jiasi hat has four fur flaps, and the cha is a fur-lined robe worn by men on special occasions. However, after the Dalai Lama’s 2006 appeal not to wear any endangered fur or skins of tigers and leopards, a campaign was launched to destroy such costumes.

It is said that the best waterproof otter skins originate in India and Pakistan. A network of poachers-cum-traders is responsible for the fast decline of the otter population in all the protected mangrove areas where they live. As smuggling occurs via Nepal and Bangladesh, in June 2011, BWC wrote to the Union Minister for Home Affairs to help by firmly cracking down on smugglers at the borders.

Other fur bearing wild animals found and poached for their pelts in the country in addition to tigers and leopards/panthers, range from snow leopards (around 500 left) and the Himalayan marmots to bears, and from foxes and wild dogs to squirrels. (It was reported that when in 2009, the then President Pratibha Patil visited North Eastern states in India, she wore a cap made from the fur of a rare flying squirrel.)

It is not uncommon for the skins of goats, calves and even dogs, to be finely painted and sold as tiger or leopard skin to unsuspecting buyers.

Fur-bearing Animals


Fur is animal skin with a short or long, dense coat having silky, soft hair, whereas a pelt is un-tanned skin of any fur-bearing animal. Hide is the tough skin of large animals like cattle that is tanned into leather.
Listed below are some species of fur-bearing animals – farmed and wild – from around the world:
Badger
Bears
Beavers
Black Fitches / Polecats
Blue Foxes
Bobcats
Cat
Cheetahs
Chinchillas
Chinese Squirrels
Cougars
Coyotes
Coypu
Cross Foxes
Dog
Ermine
Finn Raccoons
Fisher
Foxes
Gray Wolves
Grey Foxes
Grey Squirrels
Jaguars
Kangaroos
Karakul Lambs
Koalas
Kolinski
Leopards / Panthers
Lions
Long Tail Weasels
Lynx
Martens
Mink
Mink Badgers
Moles
Monkeys
Muskrats
Musquash
Nutria
Ocelots
Opossums
Otters
Possums
Rabbits
Raccoons
Red Foxes
Red Squirrels
Red Wolves
Rodents
Russian Sable
Russian Squirrels
Sable
Seals
Sheep
Short Tail Weasels
Silver Foxes
Skunks
Stoats
Snow Leopards
Striped Skunks
Tigers
Weasels
White Fitches / Polecats
White Foxes
Wild Cats
Wolves
Wolverine
Zebras

BWC feels that no fur-bearing animal pelts or articles made from them should be allowed to go out or come into India. But unfortunately under India’s Import Policy 2012 “furskins including heads, tails, paws and other pieces or cuttings, suitable for furriers use” subject to the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 and CITES, are marked “free” (allowed).

Better late than never and something better than nothing, on 3 January 2017 the Directorate of Foreign Trade issued an amendment (DGFT Notification No 33/2015-2020) to the import policy prohibiting mink, fox and chinchilla fur (and also reptile skins). Moreover, on 28 March 2018 DGFT Public Notice 59 stated “Policy Condition: Import of seal skin, in any form, is prohibited” under Chapter 41, 42 and 43 of ITC (HS), 2017. Unfortunately the 3 January 2017 Policy was reversed from “Prohibited” to “Free” vide Notification No 55/2015-2020 dated 7 January 2021. On getting to know in April 2021 BWC approached the Prime Minister and the Union Minister for Commerce & Industry, as well as the Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare, to again reverse and place reptile skins, mink, fox, chinchilla and add all animal furs in the Prohibited category of the Import Policy particularly in view of foreign fur farms having closed down due to Covid-19.

BWC again wrote to the Prime Minister June 2021 saying that Israel banned fur, and that by then many countries had already taken legislative action to ban or phase-out furs. They were Austria, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. And, proposals to prohibit fur production were being considered in Poland, Ireland, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Ukraine. We added that in view of Covid-19, one would have imagined that not only a few more species would have been added, but a blanket ban on all animal furs would have materialised in India, but shockingly the Directorate of Foreign Trade reversed the existing Import Policy prohibiting reptile skins, and mink, fox and chinchilla fur from “Prohibited” to “Free”. In addition to cruelty and killing of animals involved for the luxury trades, since in view of Covid-19 the current trend worldwide was to avoid products of animal origin, we again requested the government to impose an immediate ban on import, production & sale of animal furs in India.


Illegal Online Trade


Wildlife poachers have already begun to illegally use India Post to smuggle products out of the country – probably those sold on-line. Deer antlers, reptile skins, elephant-ivory and tiger-nails have been intercepted, but unfortunately a high percentage of parcels have left the country undetected. Moreover, the culprits have not been located because the senders’ addresses on the parcels are fictitious.


In 2013 BWC wrote to the Minister of Finance requesting that appropriate action via the Central Board of Excise and Customs be taken. We have also alerted the Department of Posts.


Different ways and means are used to smuggle poached wild life to their destinations, usually in another country. Selling online, using code words in Hindi such as those below, is an immerging trend to illegally target international buyers:

Animal Pelt/Skin
Tiger Skin 
Leopard Skin
Musk/Kasturi
Bear Bile
Sand Boa
Ivory
Chaddar
Dhaariwala Chaddar
Chotawala Chaddar
Aaloo
Pyaaz
Double Engine or Scooter
Pipe


In November 2012 BWC stated in Compassionate Friend and on its websites that “May be India’s wild life personnel do not know that antlers and “deer horns” (one priced at Rs 8 lakhs) are offered for sale by Indians on the olx website.”


Soon after, in the beginning of 2013, India’s Wildlife Crime Control Bureau began hiring cyber crime specialists to trail online over a thousand websites that were advertising and illegally selling wild life – alive like Giant Ladybirds, Tokay Geckos, Indian Star Tortoises, Hill Mynas, Tarantulas, Sea Horses, Sea Cucumbers, Parakeets; and animal body parts, not only such as the usual tiger skins, ivory and rhino horns, but also bird feathers, musk pods, bear bile, mongoose hair, snake skins and pangolin scales.


Then at the Interpol and CBI conference in July 2013, the Minister of Environment & Forests stated that wildlife trade gangs had terror links. However, the CBI pointed out how difficult it was for them to investigate crimes against wildlife, because to do so permission was required from all state governments except three (Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh) that had accorded the requisite general consent to carry out investigations under section 50(1) of the Wildlife Protection Act.

Page last updated on 01/11/21