Can Wearing Fur Ever Be Ethical?
If you had asked me this question a couple of weeks ago, I would have laughed.
My answer—of course—would have been a resounding no. How can we justify the killing of one hundred million animals per year for fashion? In my opinion, there is nothing pretty about draping yourself in the pelt of a slaughtered animal, and nothing more abhorrent than the fact that humans (who supposedly possess moral reasoning) can support this trade. When people buy fur, they are condoning the torture (this link is not for the faint-hearted, but what goes on in fur farms is categorically, undeniably torture) of innocent animals.
Despite all of this, my experiences over the last few weeks have caused me to question my stance on fur.
As some of you will know, I have just returned from spending 2 months travelling Australia and New Zealand. In case you weren’t already aware, New Zealand’s most iconic animal—the kiwi—is under threat. As recently as two hundred years ago, millions of kiwi filled New Zealand’s forests. By 2008, however, their numbers had plummeted, with just 80,000 individuals still living in the wild.
So, what exactly went wrong? The short answer, as usual, is humans. More specifically, the influx of European settlers who destroyed forest habitats and introduced predators which the kiwi is not adapted to defend against. Possums in particular have devastated kiwi populations. Introduced in 1837 to kick-start the New Zealand fur trade, possum numbers rapidly increased and these nocturnal marsupials soon spread across the country. As well as damaging native shrubs and trees, possums often eat kiwi eggs and sometimes even kiwi chicks. Although the New Zealand government has implemented intensive trapping efforts in an attempt to control the population, the possums are still causing huge amounts of damage to kiwi populations.
What Does This Have to do With the Fur Trade?
Trapping on such a massive scale is a hugely time and money-intensive task. The government doesn’t have endless funds, particularly when there are a plethora of environmental threats which need to be addressed. As a result, conservationists have come up with a particularly ingenious way of funding possum control; they are making the possums pay for their own traps.
Unfortunately for the possums, this isn’t as cute as it sounds. Government officials aren’t knocking on possum houses, asking them to hand over tax money. In order to fund the continued trapping of possums, their fur is sold in the form of clothes, bags and accessories. The profits from these sales drive the continued trapping of possums across the country, shrinking populations year-on-year. Effectively, when you purchase something made from possum fur, you are funding the conservation of kiwis. Without the fur trade, it’s possible that possum numbers would continue to rise, leading to the demise of kiwis in the wild. All of the conservationists and wildlife lovers I spoke to told me that buying possum products is one of the greatest ways to help kiwi populations, no matter how wrong it feels.
I still feel remorse when I think about possums being trapped and killed; they are simply following their natural instincts, and it’s not their fault that we helped them to become established beyond their native range. However, in this instance, the possum fur trade is a necessary evil in the pursuit of kiwi conservation. This whole debate just goes to show that environmental issues are rarely black and white—even those issues that you thought you could never change your stance on! These sorts of polarising issues—the fur trade, the palm oil industry, zoos and wildlife parks—are rarely as simple as they seem.