The Otter Hunt Reborn

yawningEn route to Montreal for the GRIDA Animal Law Conference (see post here), I picked up some Canadian newspapers.  From the NationalPost, I learn that aboriginals on Vancouver Island hope to kill 1% of the region’s sea otters per year for “ceremonial reasons.”

Sea otters, like so many other fur-bearing animals, were hunted to near extinction in Canada during the heyday of the European fur trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  They were reintroduced into British Columbia from Alaska in the early 1970s and have made progress, repopulating approximately 30% of their original range.  In 2007, the Canadian government downlisted otters from “threatened” to “special concern.”  Now, the Nuu-chah-nulth tribe and federal fisheries officials have crafted a sea otter “management plan” that will permit tribe members to shoot them.  Related story here.

This has strong parallels to the wolf scenario in the United States (some irony: the wolf-bloodthirsty governor of Idaho is named Otter…).  I appreciate the need for sensitivity to native people and traditions — an issue that does not pertain to the U.S. wolf situation.  And the discussion over when and how concern for animals should defer to native traditions must be ongoing and vigorous (it will likely surprise no one that I believe human rituals, whatever their provenance, are less important than animal lives).  But here the issue should not yet be ripe.  The otter has not even fully recovered its numbers and remains at risk.  Why the hurry to kill them?

–David Cassuto

Live Skinning Raccoon Dogs and Other Tales from the Fur Farm

raccoon dog 1aSometimes, information presents itself that is so stirring, so disturbing, so utterly inconceivable that even those of us paying attention to these issues are shaken to the core.

Such was the case when I chose to view the undercover video of a Chinese fur farm taken by investigators of Care for the Wild, EAST International, and Swiss Animal Protection.

For those who don’t have the stomach to watch this kind of video, here is a description of the scenes.  The investigation reveals that before the raccoon dogs are skinned alive, they are thrown to the ground with a forceful blow to the head and then bludgeoned with metal rods in attempt to stun the animal.  More often than not, the animal’s bones are broken and they are temporarily stunned rather than dead. Many animals are still alive and struggling desperately when workers flip them onto their backs or hang them up by their legs or tails to skin them. The video shows workers on these farms cutting the skin and fur from an animal’s leg while the free limbs kick and writhe. When the fur is finally peeled off over the animals’ heads, their naked, bloody bodies are thrown onto a pile.  Reports indicate that some of the animals are still alive, hearts beating for as long as 10 minutes after they are skinned. One investigator recorded a skinned raccoon dog on the heap of carcasses who had enough strength to lift his bloodied head and stare into the camera.

Prior to their unimaginably painful death, the animals live in the cruelest of conditions as they pace and shiver in outdoor wire cages, exposed to all of the elements – rain, freezing nights, or scorching sun. Not surprisingly, injury and disease are commonplace. Anxiety-induced psychosis leads to self-mutilation, infanticide and other extreme, desperate behaviors.

The Swiss Animal Protection / East-International 2007 report, Dying for fur – A Report on the Fur Industry in China, informs us that “there are no regulations governing fur farms in China—farmers can house and slaughter animals however they see fit.” Two of the most important laws covering animals in China – the Environment Protection Law and the Wildlife Protection Law – only protect wildlife in the wild.  Wild animals in captivity are treated as mere property, resources, or objects. China is one of the few countries in the world without any legal provisions for animal welfare and furthermore, there are no acts banning cruelty in the Chinese legal system.

Based on a survey of U.S. retail outlets many of the mass-marketed fur-trimmed garments carry the “Made in China” label.  However, with our globalized market, China-originated fur pelts are disbursed through international auctions prior to being sewn in other countries.  Therefore, the final fur product label could read “Made in Italy” or “Made in France,” making it impossible for consumers to know where the fur originates. Furthermore, manufacturing techniques such as dying often deceive shoppers into thinking they are buying fake fur.
Compounding this issue is the fact that Chinese fur farms deal not only in minks, foxes, and raccoon dogs, but domestic cats and dogs as well (some with their companion collars still affixed).  The fur’s original species is indistinguishable to the typical end user.  All the more reason to be relentless with the message to all who will listen that fur – even if it is “fake” – is a frivolous, unnecessary, and irresponsible purchase that supports animal cruelty in its worst form.

As I sit here in the middle of the couch, flanked by a peacefully resting dog to my left and cat to my right, the contrast in how some humans treat animals is a profound mystery to me.  How is it that we are all of the same species (humans) and yet our values and, thus our capabilities, regarding treatment of animals can range from doting to mere tolerance to depraved indifference to barbarism?  And I don’t just mean those who skin the animals.  The people who buy the fur are just a culpable as those who hold the skinning knife.

Michelle Land

Fur Is Green?

Guest Blogger: Seth Victor

Today I discovered the “Fur Is Green” campaign, sponsored by the Fur Council of Canada. I don’t think anyone who reads this blog will find this campaign anything less than absurd. While I could possibly see someone buying the “Respect for the Land” and “Respect for the People” prongs, I find immense tragicomedy in the “Respect for Animals” section. Adorned by earthy tones and trendy phrases like “eco-conscious,” and the particularly nauseating Beautifully Canadian link (to be clicked at your own risk), the site proudly proclaims, “Nothing is wasted!” The Fur Council wants you to know that we already use animals in practically everything we do, and that the fur trade represent less than one percent of the animals killed in the name of human use. Beyond that, they take care not to trap outside of the regulations developed by Agriculture Canada, and that no endangered species are every used; apparently, they are either never caught by advanced, discriminating traps, or they simply are not used, whatever their actually fate may be.

I think most environmentalists looking at “Fur Is Green” will recoil from its message and not be swayed into purchasing fur lined boxers over environmentally destructive synthetics. I am, however, aware that there are campaigns that emphasize the eco-friendly aspects of hunting, which have their own merits, so perhaps I am wrong. What disturbs me about this campaign is not how effective it may be, but how quickly this decade’s environmental movement is being eroded into a pop culture term devoid of meaning. If the Fur Council can adopt its butchering as a green alternative, I hesitate to think what other environmental disasters could be given the stamp of approval. Prof. Cassuto already mentioned Orwell’s comment about how words matter, but it bears repeating.

Moreover, this campaign illustrates how anthropocentric environmental concerns can be. If fur is good for the environment, we must be excluding other mammals from inclusion in this sustainable world. What kind of world are we saving from pollution by not choosing synthetics? Often when people talk about factory farms as an environmental disaster, they are addressing the methane and waste pollution, but not the cows who are deprived of a full life.

Lastly, I wonder how many people are disturbed by the Fur Council’s reasoning, but are not bothered that the exact same reasoning underlies the laws that keep farmed animals in the atrocious conditions in which they exist. Fur Council assumes that since we are already using animals, we should continue to do so, and that it is actually something of an accolade that they do not come close to destroying as many lives as food production does (I must say that this is the first time I have seen that percentage spun in this manner). How, I ask, is this any different from state laws that allow current industry norms to dictate legal standards for animal treatment, or the underlying philosophy that animals should be denied legal rights because they do not have legal rights? Furthermore, what does that say about Fur Council’s aforementioned standards of care? There is no difference, and yet I am willing to bet that many people who are outraged by this site will not think twice about their next hamburger.

On Judaism & Fur

A colleague recently shared this article, written for an Orthodox Jewish website, on the issue of wearing fur.  The author is the president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America.  The piece offers a learned discussion of the tradition of compassion and respect for nonhumans woven through Judaism.  Perhaps even more interesting are the comments, which range from the thoughtful to the completely obtuse, all the while referencing Jewish law.

David Cassuto