Trapping Muskrat, the mother of humankind (no Muskrat Love here)

Kathleen Stachowski   Other Nations

From the Yet More Bad News for Wild Animals department: The North American Fur Auctions (NAFA) has just concluded its most successful sale with what it calls “advancing wild fur prices.”

“NAFA’s wild fur consignors are reaping the rewards from our international wild fur promotional efforts as buyers competed heavily today for most articles, pushing prices to high levels. 

“Today’s sale concluded with the following items:
• Fisher reached new highs, selling to the world’s high fashion industry
• Lynx Cats also reached new highs, selling under strong competition to Russia, Ukraine, Greece and Italy
• Lynx sold at advancing prices over last year
• Coyotes sold at high prices with the Canadian trimming trade dominating the better sections
• Red Fox sold at sharply increased prices with strong competition from all major markets

“All other articles sold 100 percent at advancing prices. Our next sale is in May where we will offer 2.7 million mink. In Wild Fur, we will offer approximately 500,000 Raccoons, 400,000 Musquash and 100,000 Beavers (price chart).”

For you bargain shoppers, a squirrel’s skin goes for a paltry $0.63. (Sixty-three cents? For someone’s life?) Top-dollar-getter is the lynx cat (aka bobcat) at $426.31 for a Western animal’s skin (see “pelt” categories here).

NAFA is aggressively marketing to international consumers–particularly young, flush Chinese–with its “Northern Lights” wild fur collection. It’s all about “fun, fantasies and the feeling of just being young and beautiful,” according to its oh-so-breezy website write-up. “The amount of wild fur exhibited at the Beijing Fair shows the growing importance of many species, particularly muskrat, beaver, coyote, red fox and raccoon within the fashion industry, this being outside of the traditional fur retailer.”

Particularly bad news for the North American musquash: The muskrat fur market is booming. More specifically, the muskrat belly fur market is booming, according to the Wall Street Journal. This is “thanks to soaring purchases by Chinese and other newly rich nations that need muskrat fur to line coats and footwear.” That’s right. You mind your own business, pursue the things important to you–engineering a den, gnawing on cattails, nursing your babies, plying the marshy waters and basking in the warm sun, and snap! just like that! you’re ten bucks lining Grizzly Adams’ pocket…and you literally are the lining in Xiulan’s fashion boots.

The fur on a muskrat’s stomach is felt-like and virutally waterproof. This is good and bad. Good, because Nature outfitted the semi-aquatic rodent with the perfect wetlands drysuit. Bad, for the obvious reason. “Rats, as trappers call them, have never fetched a higher price,” reports the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. “An auction in North Bay, Ontario, this month (January) featured 55,000 muskrat pelts — including a bundle, known as a lot…sent by way of an Ohio agent.” Says the trapper: “The Chinese bought them all.”

Muskrats live in families–mom, dad, the kids, and coexist with their neighbors, the Beavers. (Evidence from one den-cam shows muskrats actually living with their beaver hosts.) And like all of Nature’s denizens, they’re an integral part of an intricate web, serving as prey for many species and provider of habitat for others–their feeding activities serve to maintain open areas in wetlands, which in turn provide habitat for birds. Other animals–snakes, turtles, frogs, ducks, and geese—use muskrat lodges and platforms to rest and nest in.

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Many Native American tribes place their creation myths on Muskrat’s amazing and able back, and no wonder: “Muskrats can swim under water for 12 to 17 minutes. Their bodies, like those of seals and whales, are less sensitive to the buildup of carbon dioxide than those of most other mammals. They can close off their ears to keep the water out” (Wikipedia).

Muskrat plays the role of Earthdiver in several Native American tribes, being the only animal to succeed at diving to the ocean floor to bring up earth for the Creator or culture hero to make land with. In some Algonquin traditions, Muskrat is a female figure who becomes the mother of humankind. Muskrats are considered lucky animals in other tribes, and some folktales include muskrats bestowing wealth or hunting success on humans who treat them respectfully. Native American Muskrat Mythology

But let’s get down to brass tacks–or should we say, steel traps, which have nothing to do with respect. Muskrats are killed in body gripping traps, foothold traps (from The “if a standard foot-hold trap is used and the muskrat isn’t submerged, it may twist and pull until it escapes, leaving its foot in the trap. This is called wring-off…”), and cage traps set at a den’s under-water opening so the animal drowns. (A primer on muskrat trapping and skinning can be found here.) Lest anyone labor under the misconception that drowning is a peaceful, easy death–a fiction sometimes promulgated by trappers–note this comment at a discussion forum:

“This morning on my way out to set more foothold traps for coyotes my brother and I made a detour to check some muskrat colony traps in one of his ponds. We connected on three different colony traps and caught single catches in each of them. One big male went down biting onto the wire of the trap. We had to break his teeth with a multi-tool to get him out of the trap.”

Yeah, trapping bites, all right. And what really bites–now that fur is no longer cool in the U.S. thanks to groups big and small crusading against cruelty–is that a global market comes roaring to life, making trim of coyotes from Montana, making lining of muskrats from Michigan. Just so the nouveau riche in China can get their “fun and fantasies” on, NAFA having convinced them this is necessary.

But given that we here in the U.S. are still struggling ourselves to drive the last few nails into the coffin of this anachronistic brutality, we’ll have to be patient with our Asian neighbors. Indeed, they’re already making terrific progress in their animal activism, taking on shark finning, rodeo, and more; in our well-connected, linked-up world, let’s hope their progress comes faster than ours has.

Finally, for those who are wondering, “OK, this is all well and good, but what about the obvious connection between beauty queens and muskrat skinning?” –wonder no longer. The tradition continues in Dorchester County, MD, where Miss Outdoors is crowned on the same stage–and thankfully, prior to–the muskrat skinning contest. Pretty teens vying for one title; men with knives vying for another. Absent is any notion that Muskrat is the mother of humankind.

12 Responses

  1. Human beings are the cruelest of all species. We have such potential for compassion but hardly a clue that the 4 leggeds and the winged and fins are our brothers and sisters. Appalling!!

  2. It was very hard to read this post, but I felt I owed it to you, Kathleen, because it must have been even tougher to research the facts and write them up. I’m sorry, I didn’t have the stomach to open the links you so carefully — muskrat-lovingly — provided.

    What amazes me is that anyone with a heart like yours can think clearly enough after reading of these abominations to express compassion instead of anger, gentle humor instead of cruel sarcasm. I think your clever play on words (lining Grizzly’s pockets and lining Xiulan’s boots, brass tacks and steel traps) kept me from going over the edge!

    A question: Greece? Who in Greece can afford to buy luxuries these days? Oh, they have a 1%, too?

    Another question: how are there any fur-bearing animals left on this planet, given the rapaciousness of those who covet — and kill for — coats belonging to another? The trappers have many accomplices — consumers who haven’t a clue they are complicit in such immorality, such cruelty.

    A shared hope: your second-to-last paragraph, especially “… in our well-connected, linked-up world, let’s hope their progress comes faster than ours has.”

    This post reminds me of one of a precious poem featured in Creature Quotes. Though it has a Christian sentiment, non-Christians will be touched, too, I think:

    The steel jaws clamped and held him fast,
    None marked his fright, none heard his cries.
    His struggles ceased; he lay at last
    With wide, uncomprehending eyes,
    And watched the sky grow dark above
    And watched the sunset turn to grey.
    And quaked in anguish while he strove
    To gnaw the prisoned leg away.
    Then day came rosy from the east,
    But still the steel jaws kept their hold,
    And no one watched the prisoned beast,
    But fear and hunger, thirst and cold.
    Oppressed by pain, his dread grew numb,
    Fright no more stirred his flagging breath.
    He longed, in vain, to see him come
    The cruel hunter, bringing death.
    Then through the gloom that night came One
    Who set the timid spirit free;
    “I know thine anguish, little son;
    So once men held and tortured Me.”
    (poem by F. F. van de Water alias Edward Breck)
    Lieutenant Commander Rtd. Edward Breck (1861-1929)
    American Naval intelligence officer
    Scholar, champion fencer and golfer, naturalist
    Founder, Anti-Steel-Trap League

  3. Fur is back with a vengeance. I watched portions of the Fashion Week in Milan a couple of weeks ago and saw too much of it. I also saw an interview of a fur association president who said that the demand is really high and rationalized the cruelty that way. I saw an interview of a person that raises medium sized white animals (don’t know what they are, but really cute) kept in a cage all their lives and then gassed for their fur explaining that they are never hurt.
    I don’t think my stomach can take much of this stuff especially when you meet their eyes with yours, you feel hopeless and powerless for what your own kind does to these little creatures. The only way to get these people to understand would be to inflict the same on them, just think how fast they would put 2 and 2 together.

  4. Really sad to hear this. Let’s hope things change soon before these poor animals are extinct.

  5. Seems to me that any bad story related to animal abuse is somehow traceable to China, ” The evil republic” or should I dare say “The republic of eivl people”. China is forcing cosmetic companies like Avon, EStee Lauder, etc to start retesting their cosmetics on animals if they are to tap into the growing domestic market. Pharmaceutical companies are moving all their biological research to China because there are no laws governing, what they can do to lab animals. China is the largest consumer of pork and pork products, has illegal bear bile farms and also skins racoon dogs live for their fur. To make money the chinese will stoop to any level. Since there is no religion in China, there is no concept of God and hence no concept of good/bad. It is truly an evil monster of a country. Say no to chinese made products. Wake up before it is too late and the dragon swallows all humanity.

  6. An interesting and thought-provoking subject. Ethically, I think it would be difficult to justify either trapping animals, or raising them in captivity and killing them — only to make fur clothing to satisfy some fashion craze.

  7. I agree with Lovely that for whatever reason China is intent on mimicking all Western ills and upping our most vile sins. We should never have validated their country by way of the Olympics… And because of their human rights violations – I just don’t understand the total absence of economic sanction. Well… I gue$$ I do.

    Still I don’t think it’s a lack of religion that’s to blame. Hopefully many like myself who may not have a belief in a god – But honor the “Good” nonetheless.

    And besides – I’d almost guarantee that these folks doing the hands on trapping, skinning and selling of murdered lives, have claimed their “permissions” in the page of “The (good) Book”. Same goes for the big-time-peddlers whose wicked wares grace the glossies and runways – Bet anything, they’re considered “upstanding community members” as they make their weekly appearance at the pews.

    No… I don’t think it’s religion – Or nationality that permits such callous treatment to sweet life… It’s a species issue that we owe this ignorance to. And not even for eat or be eaten, tooth and claw survival… Nothing as noble as that. Ours is for sheer gluttony – The want of “luxury” – The hedonist desire for frivolous excess no matter what blood money it takes to get it.

    Kathleen – Thank you for writing this post… It’s honest in what it pleads for the victims and what it confesses concerning us. We do urgently need to fix ourselves.

  8. I’m sorry to go off topic here a bit, but in response to Lovely’s comment, the USA has no moral high ground when it comes to the treatment of animals (go visit a CAFO or chicken “processing” plant if you think we’re so enlightened). Nor does the US have a corner on animal welfare/rights organizations, those exist and are becoming more vocal in China. Human abusive treatment of nonhumans knows no racial or national borders. To demonize “others” is to ignore one’s own culpability, something we here in the US are very good at.

    Additionally, as Provoked has pointed out, animal use/abuse in the US is often justified by invoking the good ole Genesis “dominion” quote, a favorite of some Christians, along with the Catholic belief that animals do not possess souls. Additionally, there’s no rational reason to believe that people without religion have “no concept of good or bad”. There’s ethics without religion in many cultures.

    As to the article, well written, as always, and sad. Also yet another example of how the free market can excuse anything, as long as it makes money. I’m so tired of bad news though, that I cannot hope to comment on it intelligently.

  9. What to say about the China comments? other than to say I agree–with all of them. Surely we want to support Chinese AR activists even if only with moral support–if we think WE’VE got it tough, think of the immense tide THEY’RE swimming against. But then there’s China’s ongoing human rights abuses (not that they have a corner on that market by any means); the persecution of Tibet; their vote, along with Russia, to block UN Security Council action on the human slaughter in Syria; their unspeakable treatment of animals, and then comes this:

    Here’s someone else speaking as unequivocally as Lovely did. The excesses in cruelty are sickening. But certainly there are Chinese people every bit as horrified as we are to read of these things. From Lorien: “Human abusive treatment of nonhumans knows no racial or national borders. To demonize “others” is to ignore one’s own culpability, something we here in the US are very good at.” Amen to that. Excellent comments from all–but no surprise there.

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  11. […] Trapping Muskrat, the mother of humankind (no Muskrat Love here) ( […]

  12. God Lord, I love how biased this is, have you ever actually been trapping? Have you ever seen what Muskrats do to the environment they inhabit? They are nasty little bastards that burrow deep into the shore lines and dig out hollow nests, only to abandon them(Which later results in the shoreline collapsing). And on the topic of “The poor little guys going extinct” Are you serious right now? We are only allowed to trap them for about 2 months out of the year. This gives them 10 months to repopulate. Which they do quite nicely, having roughly 4 liters in a single summer. Can you imagine what would happen if they weren’t thinned out in winter? The results would be horrendous, and eventually the WAY overpopulated Muskrats would begin to starve, which believe me, is much worse than being trapped. So before everyone cries and whines, know what your talking about. Please and thank you. Oh, and to the “Live trap” guy, we need to remove the hide from the rats, so live traps aren’t an option.

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