Question 4: 'Are those videos going around for real?'
The answer is: “Unfortunately there are many documented incidents of activists’ groups ‘staging’ horrible videos to fuel their fund-raising drives, and links to http://www.furcommission.com/news/newsC7.htm, a website devoted to exposing such chicanery.”
Because all such “exposures” involve groups or individuals or situations other than Born Free USA, we will limit our comments to the one example with which the senior author had somewhat personal knowledge, except to say that experience shows that courts very often fail to bring justice to animals, particularly in Canada when it comes to the east coast commercial seal hunt.
One of the allegations is that one video showing animals getting caught in traps was staged by putting animals in enclosures with set traps and photographing the results. No proof is provided because none exists. The video in question is made from film produced in part by Frank Conibear, and in part by a trapper in Alberta who provided the film in return for absolute anonymity. The latter’s claim was always that the animals were not caught in the wild and caged. All that happened decades ago and there is simply no way to verify either contention, of course, but in terms of what it illustrates, the impact of traps on animals is obvious and real. The practice of putting animals in captivity in traps is, while not something to be done or condoned by any compassionate organization, exactly what the FCC condones in its support for trap research (see above).
The website also blames the Canadian Association for Humane Trapping (CAHT) for using these images, apparently not realizing that CAHT was formed as a pro-fur organization.
None of this addresses the core issue of whether the fur industry is “green.”
The FCC’s answer to Question 4 continues: “They do this because the stakes are high! Animal activist groups now rake in millions of dollars with sensationalized media-driven campaigns.”
There are no specifics about any “sensationalized media-driven campaigns,” nor is it explained how media drive a campaign. Those of us actually engaged in the business of helping animals know that we don’t make “millions of dollars” and that media may follow a campaign, but do not drive it. The only link given is to www.activist.com, an organization that appears to take offense at animal-protection organizations daring to oppose “institutionalized” cruelty — the abuse of animals that occurs in industries, such as the fur industry, where abuse regularly occurs and has been well documented. It implies that the largest organization, an American registered charity, somehow falsifies its claims, as though the Internal Revenue Service were so easily duped! In fact, registered charities are, unlike lobbyists such as the FCC, rigidly constrained by law in their political activities, and in both Canada and the United States, the law is very strictly enforced by each country’s respective government.
More to the point, these organizations do not sell (beyond a minimal amount of promotional marketing at best) a physical product; they offer a service. That service is the protection of animals.
The public is bombarded with messages from all sides of any major controversy, and the fur issue is no exception. The FCC receives funding from the fur industry, which in turn sells a physical product derived from animals. Animal-protection organizations deliver the message that the fur industry does not want to have delivered, thus the industry, through the FCC, attacks the messenger.
The veracity of claims made by advocates is important, but common sense has to enter the debate. Whether or not some instances of animal abuse have been staged, the evidence is overwhelming and obvious that animals suffer in traps, even though most trapping occurs in remote areas where photography, particularly of the animal getting caught, is difficult to impossible to attain. Certainly none of us who are compassionate would ever consider simply standing buy, camera running, and do nothing to prevent an animal from entering a trap, thus will never be the primary source of such visual material.
The reason some video of institutionalized animal abuse was obtained covertly, and thus lacks a degree of provenance that can satisfy extreme critics, is because the activities shown are conducted behind locked doors and out of sight of the public and in conditions inimical to filming. For an excellent look at the problems faced by those seeking to expose egregious animal abuse, see the Oscar-winning film documentary “The Cove.” That film demonstrates the considerable cost and huge effort needed to document the slaughter of dolphins in a cove on a Japanese island, even though the event takes place in the open and in a populous area.
It should be emphasized that people who abuse animals, those who are not driven by psychopathic urges, do so for some reason — and in the case of those involved in the production of fur, it is to earn income.
Animal protection, on the other hand, is largely volunteer-driven. Even those who earn part- or full-time livings helping animals are dependent on support from those who, however they earn their living, want to share some of those earnings in return for knowing that animals have been protected, with the abuse curtailed or eliminated.
Compassion for animals is a value supporters of animal-protection organizations have that, obviously, is not shared by the animal abusers themselves, who obviously have a different value system. Thus they are inclined to assign to those who earn any income from efforts on behalf of animals their own motive, profits, even though advocacy work is notoriously low-paying and uncertain, when it pays at all. Yes, there are some senior executives of some of the largest animal-protection organizations who certainly earn decent livings, but even those incomes are but a fraction of what would be earned for similar work with similar levels of responsibility done in the private sector, including the financial sector where, as we have all learned in recent years, competency is not related to absurdly massive incomes.
And none of this has anything to do with the question of whether or not fur is “green.”
The reply to Question 4 goes on to say: “One of the most gruesome and offensive videos now circulating shows Asiatic raccoons (sic) in a Chinese village being, literally, skinned while still alive. The question is why anyone would do something so cruel … unless they were paid to produce a shocking video? Apart from the obvious cruelty, skinning a moving animal, increases the risk of damaging the pelt or harming the operator; diseases and infections can be transmitted by knife nicks or cuts. Furthermore, living animals (their hearts still beating) bleed more, which would unnecessarily dirty and damage the pelt. Would a pelt stained with blood and cut haphazardly while an animal wriggles be of any value?”
What the video, or as much of it as we could stomach viewing, shows is several raccoon dogs (a species of canine native to Asia — there is no such thing as an Asiatic raccoon, see below) being hauled up by the hindquarters and slammed very hard against the earthen ground until stunned, then suspended upside down, and skinned from the top, rear quarters, down the body, in the usual way. There is little movement left in these horrifically abused animals and in the video we see three animals lined up on the ground after being slammed to earth with great force, twitching and jerking, but obviously suffering from much too much neural trauma to do what they would otherwise do, and run away.
The objective is almost certainly not to produce furs of great value used by the fashion industry, but to quickly and cost-effectively obtain skins that can be then sliced up for trim on non-fur garments, which is what raccoon dog fur is normally used for when exported to foreign markets such as Canada and the United States. To kill the animals would require extra steps and equipment, thus increase costs.
There are no raccoon dogs bred in North American fur farms. The species is prohibited from North America because of the ecological damage that has occurred in parts of Eurasia where it is not native, but has escaped from fur farms — a development that contradicts the FCC’s contention that fur is “green.”
But there are foxes, in the same family as the raccoon dog and about the same weight and they are often killed in North America by placing an electric probe up the anus so as not to damage the fur, and then electrocuted.
The ability to kill the animals in this fashion is presumably beyond the ability of the man in the video in question, and surely the risks of using makeshift equipment to electrocute the animals would be no less to the operator than using a knife. Drugs that can be injected into the animal or gases and the equipment needed to use them possibly could more humanely kill the animals, but would also be expensive and difficult of not impossible to procure and use in rural China. If jury-rigged, such methods would also put people at risk. Shooting the animal, or slitting its throat, or any other such method of delivering a quicker death would do more damage to the pelt and cause more blood, cost money and cause other risks.
Finally, for those who can endure watching this film, it soon becomes obvious that the man doing the job is unemotional and adept, clearly having done it many times. There is none of the trial and error or hesitation that would suggest that this was something new to him, something that he normally would not do. And were he complicit with the filmmakers, the quality of the film itself would be better.
We do not know why anyone would be so cruel, but the length of time spent suffering by these unfortunate animals is a fraction of the time some trapped animals in Canada and the United States spend suffering, so it is moot as to which is “more” cruel. We do know that while anti-cruelty legislation is reportedly pending in China as this is being written, at the moment and at the time the video was made the practice is and was quite legal. As any student of history knows, when laws either do not exist, or are rendered by civil breakdown to be ineffective (Somalia and Rwanda present two relatively recent examples, Nazi Germany remains the iconic example), the most horribly cruel abuses beyond what ordinary people could imagine are directed against people. It is only law and its effective enforcement that guards against cruelty to animals or humans.
We also know people are given to irrational behavior. Those of us who have travelled in eastern Asia have seen things done to animals that make no sense — why would anyone buy and eat diseased puppies? Why are snakes, masters at wriggling, skinned alive in food markets in Hong Kong? It was in Asia that the practice of eating the brains of live monkeys became a fad that has been reported too often by too many people to be dismissed as myth.
That said, no region or culture has a monopoly on irrational, absurd or self-destructive behavior. Why do intelligent young people starting smoking now that the hazards associated with the practice are so well documented? Why did Newfoundland ignore all warnings by experts and allow one of the province’s major sources of income, the cod, to become so rare that thousands of workers lost their jobs? Why did the islanders of Easter Island cut down all the trees? We could go on endlessly asking such unanswerable questions. Why do so many Americans eat diets high in fat, salt and sugars when there is so much evidence of the health risks such a diet creates? There is no answer, but the film of the raccoon dogs being skinned alive clearly speaks for itself. We will not provide a link here; for those who insist upon seeing it, any good search engine will find it if you type in such words as “raccoon dogs skinned alive video.”
The answer to Question 4 concludes: “Other videos show animals suffering on fur farms. But it is impossible to produce high-quality fur unless animals are raised in good living conditions, with a balanced diet, a clean pen and excellent care. Are we expected to believe that this is a common practice when it doesn’t make any business sense?”
We are not sure if “it” refers to the skinning of a living raccoon dog in rural China, or to other abuses, but remember that there is less of a market for “high-quality fur” of the type used in expensive fur garments than there is for inexpensive fur used for trim, lining, small garments and novelty items. Remember, too, that the stress and neurosis that tightly confined animals can experience in the highly unnatural conditions of a fur farm have nothing to do with the quality of their fur. Weather the mink whose skin is draped over the mannequin in the fur shop suffered agonizing fear or stress or stomach disorders or neuroses matters not at all in terms of the final product so long as it stayed alive long enough to grow its first winter coat of fur, and was prevented from causing damage to fur.