Foxes And Minks Are Trapped In Barren Cages At ‘Haunting’ Fur Farm
“They were just sitting and lying down, looking like ghosts, looking like there was no one home.”
Claire Bass will never forget the horrible things she saw when she visited two fur farms in Finland last month.
“We went at night because we wanted to get an accurate view of what the fur trade is … and we certainly got that,” Bass, executive director of Humane Society International (HSI) for the UK, told The Dodo. “It was the most horrific experience of my whole professional career ... and one I’m not going to forget in a hurry.”
The first farm Bass and her team visited bred foxes and raccoon dogs, and the second one raised minks — yet both facilities had startling similarities in how they treated the animals.
“There were tiny, wire barren cages as far as our torch light would show,” Bass said. “We saw awful injuries and wounds. But I think the more haunting and terrible aspect of these places … is just the model of the battery cages. There were just row after row of tiny cages, measuring about a meter squared [3.2 square feet] — barely bigger than the animals’ lengths themselves.”
“It was just so sad,” Bass added. “Just an absolute tragedy to treat animals like that … and for it to be for such a frivolous product is just unacceptable.”
Many animals displayed repetitive patterns like head swaying and pacing — a sign of stress also known as stereotypic behavior — which Bass described as signs of “mental breakdown.” Other animals didn’t move at all.
“They were just sitting and lying down, looking like ghosts, looking like there was no one home,” Bass said.
The foxes, raccoon dogs and minks typically live only eight months before they’re killed for their fur, although breeding animals are kept alive much longer.
“The breeding animals are kept alive for years and years in tiny cages, and so the ones who only get to eight months are in some ways perversely the lucky ones,” Bass said.
When it comes time for the animals to be killed, the farm operators will use questionable methods.
“Minks are typically gassed,” Bass said. “They put maybe 10 or 20 minks into a sealed box, and gas them with either carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide. And often that can be as basic as a box that’s attached to a small tractor or something. So they’re killed by the fumes.”
“Foxes and raccoon dogs are killed by anal electrocution, which is every bit as horrible as it sounds,” Bass added.
These particular methods are used to make sure there’s minimal damage to the fur itself, Bass explained. “They don’t want to be knocking them on the head ... when they want to preserve the pelt as intact as possible,” she said.
What Bass and the HSI team found particularly astounding was that these farms claimed to have high animal welfare and environmental standards, and had even received certification through a fur brand that claims to produce “ethical furs.”
“The fur farms can’t get away from its cages and remain economically viable, so they dreamt up these certification schemes, which reward really, really minimal enhancements on the status quo,” Bass said. “For example, giving foxes a bit of plastic tube to chew on or a plastic bone … in the fur industry’s eyes, that’s good welfare. But vets and animal welfare experts around the world completely disagree that it’s in any way humane what they’re doing.”
Finland isn’t the only place that farms animals for their fur — other European countries like Denmark, Poland, Italy, France and Russia also operate a number of fur farms. Yet China is probably the biggest producer of them all — it breeds and kills 45 million minks, 16 million raccoon dogs and 15 million foxes for their fur each year, according to HSI UK.
Fur farming also happens in the U.S. There are about 290 farms across the 20 U.S. states that are involved in fur farming, which produce about 3.4 million mink pelts each year. The largest fur-producing states are Wisconsin and Utah.
While fur farming is illegal in the UK, local vendors and businesses continue to import fur into the UK, which helps keep fur farms around the world in business. Bass and the HSI UK team are currently campaigning to stop the import and sale of fur in the UK, similarly to how fur bans have been installed in U.S. cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Bass finds hope in the fact that an increasing number of people are becoming aware of the problem — and choosing not to buy fur. However, Bass cautions consumers not to buy so-called “faux fur” without being certain what it’s made of, as some companies have been found to use real fur and market it as fake.
“People need to be on their guard ... even if they think they’re buying fake fur because the product is cheap or it doesn’t clearly say on the label that it’s real fur,” Bass said. “Just don’t accidentally sleepwalk into propping up the fur trade.”