Few animal cruelty issues make my blood boil as much as the fur trade. Maybe I’ve just seen and read too much — appalling videos of animals kept for their entire lives in tiny cages and animals chewing off their limbs after being caught in a leg-hold trap — but when I see photos of vacuous celebs wearing fur it depresses, saddens and maddens me in equal measures.
Worldwide estimates of the number of animals killed for their fur are about 75 million a year. Incredible. And it truly is all for vanity, because let’s face it, who needs a fur coat, apart from Inuits?
Then there’s possum fur in New Zealand, touted as the ethical choice, often described as ‘eco fur’ or ‘helping the environment’. It’s kind of ironic that furriers are now seen as somewhat heroic for being the ‘saviours’ of New Zealand’s forests when you consider that possums were originally introduced here for the sole purpose of establishing a fur trade.
The cold hard facts
According to Te Ara Encyclopedia possums were released in New Zealand several times between 1837 and 1847, and it wasn’t until over twenty years later that a population was established. In 1921 the government decided to prohibit further releases but trappers thought otherwise and continued to release them illegally.
Now they’ve got their fur trade at the expense of New Zealand’s flora and fauna and we’re supposed to be clapping modern-day furriers on the back for killing creatures that were always part of a long-term plan to profit from in the first place? As a certain company would say: yeah right!
Don’t buy into the lie of ‘eco’ possum fur
- Like other animals trapped for their fur, possums suffer greatly. Leghold traps are brutal and cruel. They cause immense pain and trauma and some possums will suffer a slow and lingering death when trappers don’t return daily (as required by law). Such traps are also indiscriminate and can catch non-target animals. Whatever you think of possums, they don’t deserve that!
- As with vintage fur, the use of any fur only perpetuates the idea that fur is acceptable. If you wear fur you’re basically a walking billboard for the horrors of fur farming and trapping.
- Let’s be clear: there’s nothing eco about real fur – it’s environmentally unfriendly. Toxic chemicals are commonly used to preserve and process the skins and it also takes 20 times as much energy to process a coat made from animal fur as it does one made from fake fur. Fur coats are not biodegradable – they are coated in chemicals to stop them from rotting.
A 2011 study of fur farms by independent organisation CE Delft investigated farms in the Netherlands and Belgium to determine the impact of fur production on the environment. It found that with regard to different environmental issues, such as climate change and land and water use, fur is much more harmful than textiles.
- Fur is a vanity product. It is not so cold that we need real fur in New Zealand. When mountaineers climb, they don’t do it in fur! There are manymodern, man-made materials that are warmer, lighter and more weatherproof than fur.
- Many human pressures on the environment are more damaging than introduced animals but are not recognised as key threats.
- With estimates ranging from 30 -70 million possums currently inhabiting New Zealand, it is clear that the 1.5 million killed per year for the fur trade will do little to solve the ‘possum problem’. The Department of Conservation agrees, stating, “possum trapping does not reduce populations sufficiently to achieve a conservation benefit”.
- The cottage industry that has sprung up around the possum fur trade is more about profit than helping the environment. When businesses profit from fur they will have a vested interest in maintaining possum numbers, not eradicating them.
Possums aren’t fabric. They’re living, thinking, feeling individuals. Let’s stop demonising an animal that never asked to be here.
If we must control them, it needs to be done humanely and fairly. No leg-hold trapping. No 1080. The key alternative would be the use of fertility control, which would slowly reduce numbers over time – proven effective, on populations of unwanted animals like wild horses and deer in the US and in other countries. More effort should be made to develop these humane fertility control measures in New Zealand. Fur isn’t the answer – it perpetuates cruelty and doesn’t solve ecological problems.
Whether you’re a caring consumer, an environmentalist or a fashionista (or all three!) there are so many humane, warm and fashionable fabrics now that no one has an excuse for wearing fur – possum or otherwise.
Mandy Carter, SAFE Campaign Manager