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Endangered Animals and the Fur Trade



Foster the study of threatened or endangered species in non-laboratory settings.


This unit will provide information concerning the hunting and trapping of animals and how this has led to extinction and endangerment of some species. Alternatives to the use of animals for fur will also be explored.


The term "endangered species" refers to a species that is in danger of extinction in most or all of its natural range. Many factors must be taken into consideration before a species is considered endangered. These factors include the size of the animal's population, its history and its natural range. Asian elephants once numbered in the millions. Recently they have numbered in the tens of thousands and are considered endangered. An animal may become endangered or extinct in a portion of its historical range but still plentiful in other areas of its range.

The rate of extinction has increased tremendously in recent years due to human intervention. According to paleontologists, only one animal species became extinct every thousand years in the early days of life on this planet. Today, that rate of extinction may be more than one per day.

The main reason for the endangerment of a species is habitat destruction. Wildlife habitats may be destroyed to develop areas in which people live, grow crops and raise domesticated animals to be killed as food for humans. Forests may be cut down for their lumber. Toxic oil spills may been catastrophe for thousands of animals. Pesticides, acid rain and capturing of wild animals to be sold as pets contribute to the rate of endangerment.

Some animals have been hunted and trapped as products to be used in making fur coats for humans. Some animals, even those that existed in tremendous numbers, have been threatened with extinction and endangerment as a result of the fur trade. "For those animals unfortunate enough to be naturally rare in the wild for ecological or geographical reasons - the Falkland Island Fox and the North American Sea Mink, for example - total extermination came easily and quickly when their pelts were in demand by the fur trade." (AWI, Endangered Species Handbook, p.51.)

Many species have been greatly reduced in numbers and distributions because of the fur trade:

  • Fur Seals: The Guadeloupe Fur Seal and the Phillip Fur Seal have been accorded legal protection. However, their fur is valuable and poaching remains a threat.
  • Vicuna: A close relative of the domestic llama, the graceful vicuna was protected by the Inca chiefs who used its fur for royal garments. It was sheared, rather than killed, for its fine wool. However, the Spanish slaughtered thousands of vicunas...for their wool, until they finally received protection by Peru in 1920. Between 1950 and 1970, about 400,000 vicunas were killed, even though legal protection existed.
  • Otters: The otters of South America have been nearly exterminated by the fur trade. In Europe and the United States otters have been greatly reduced by fur trapping. Their short glossy fur commanded a high price for many years.
  • Spotted Cats: Jaguars, ocelots, cheetahs, margays and tigers are among the animals that have been killed for their fur. Jaguars, the largest wild cats in Latin America, were killed in large numbers in the 1960's. In 1968. over 13,000 pelts were imported into the United States alone. Its commercial import into the United States was not banned until 1972 when it was listed on the Endangered Species Act. Tigers have been hunted for fur and trophies, and their habitat has been destroyed, bringing them to near extinction. Illegal trade continues to reduce their numbers even after retail sale of coats from endangered wild cats was restricted by CITES.

"For those animals unfortunate enough to be naturally rare in the wild for ecological or geographical reasons - the Falkland Island Fox and the North American Sea Mink, for example - total extermination came easily and quickly when their pelts were in demand by the fur trade." (AWI, Endangered Species Handbook, p.51.)

Other animals, including the koala, the kangaroo and the platypus, have been victims of the fur trade. However, there is growing awareness of the need to protect endangered animals. In 1970, the Mason Act if New York State was enacted. It banned the sale of leopard, snow tiger, ocelot, margay, red wolf, vicuna, polar bear and cougar skins.

Endangered Species legislation, including the Endangered Species Act (1973), offered hope for many species which were once decimated by the fur trade. The Endangered Species Act is a federal law passed by Congress in 1973. It allows for the listing of species as endangered or threatened after a review of evidence submitted by government officials, scientists and citizens. The determining factor is whether evidence indicates that the species is in danger if extinction in a significant portion of its range. When a species is listed, it becomes illegal to harm it. Habitat must be designated to ensure continued survival of the animal or plant species involved.

The most important legislative step that has been taken to regulate trade in endangered species is the CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora.) It came into effect on July 1, 1975, to regulate trade in endangered, rare and protected species of wildlife and plants. It should be realized, however, that there are variations in interpretation of "endangered" and "threatened" status. Some governments place animals in the endangered status only when they are on the brink of extinction while others consider a species endangered as soon as the population shows of considerable decline. Due to bureaucratic procedures there may be a time lapse between a species decline, listing and protection.

In addition to the importance of legislation limiting hunting of all animals -- including endangered species -- there is great concern for the pain and suffering caused by hunting and trapping of animals. The steel jaw leghold trap, a popular method for trapping animals in the wild, is considered extremely cruel. It holds the animals paw tightly and may break bones when it snaps shut. It cuts off circulation and can cause gangrene. Some animals chew off their own paws in a desperate effort to escape the trap. Trappers in some states may not be required to check the trap for several days during which time the animal suffers pain, terror, hunger and thirst. Dogs and cats have been caught in these traps and have had to have their paws amputated because the trap cut off circulation and gangrene set in. Others means of trapping animals include killer traps, snares and cage traps. Very few states in the Unites States address the question of how to kill animals found alive in traps. In some states a .22 caliber gun is required. Many animals are killed by beating, stomping and rib crushing.

"Each year approximately 20.3 million furbearers are trapped in the United states for the fur trade....There may be several million trappers (professional, part-time and amateur) operating in the United States, and their impact on wildlife can be severe. many species of furbearers have become endangered or been totally eliminated from various states from overtrapping, which continues to threaten such species as the Canadian Lynx, Bobcat, River Otter and Fisher." (Animal and Their Legal Rights, AWI, 1990, p.157)

Numerous materials have been developed to simulate the look of fur in a completely synthetic fabric. These garments have been created to insure warmth, beauty and are available at a fraction of the cost of animal skins.


  1. Students are to conduct research to determine how the fur trade is regulated. They are to provide in-depth analysis of the following as they relate to animals hunted and trapped for their fur. How are the laws enforced? What is the evidence that these laws are not always enforced? How effective are these regulations?
    • CITES (Convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora) was started in the 1970's and has been signed by more than 70 countries. This agreement states that no endangered species will be permitted in international trade, but there are no provisions for what is allowed within the individual countries.
    • The Endangered Species Act (1973) allows a body of scientists to determine which animals are endangered and insures that these animals are protected. Habitat critical to the survival of the species will be protected and restrictions will be placed on hunting.
    • The Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972) which restricted and/or prohibited the trading or hunting of such animals as whales, sea otters and polar bears.
    Students are to distinguish between threatened and endangered animals. What do different classifications mean in terms of federal legislation?
  2. Students are to chose an animal with fur and research past and present distribution and principal causes of species decline, including:
    • habitat destruction
    • traps, hunting, poison
    • pesticides
    • wild animals sold as pets
  3. Students are to research methods of killing animals for their fur, including the steel leghold trap. pole traps, jump traps, poison, shooting, denning and other killing methods used on fur farms.
  4. Students are to research alternatives to fur, including synthetic furs and fabrics including nylons, acrylics and acrylic polyesters.
  5. An ever-increasing human population displaces wildlife as more homes and businesses are built in their habitats. Describe ways in which the human animal can live peacefully with non-human animals.


  1. Students are to present a "search of the literature" project on how animals that are now endangered have been hunted and trapped for their fur. Describe legislation aimed at protecting these animals. Describe alternatives to fur.
  2. Students are to present a project on how the creation of fur garments has affected the environment (pesticides, dyes, chemicals). Describe alternatives to furs.
  3. Students are to hypothesize whether boys or girls, younger or older students in their school show more humane concern for animals killed for their fur. They will interview students to determine whether their hypotheses are correct.
  4. Students are to test two populations (perhaps two or more classes to determine whether their attitudes towards the use of animals for furs is humanitarian or utilitarian using the Stephen Kellert (Yale University) attitudinal scale. The control group will receive no interventions. The test group will be shown videos, hear speakers from local humane societies and be required to conduct research on literature available from pro-fur organizations as well as animal-welfare/rights organizations. There will be post-testing of both the control and test group concerning their attitudes at the end of the study. The student will analyze the results, draw conclusions and make recommendations for future study
  5. Student is to determine what kinds of furs are advertised most frequently in local newspapers. What hind of furs are sold most frequently in local stores? Are these animals trapped in the wild or raised on fur farms? How did the animals live before their deaths? How where they killed? How many animals does it take to make one coat? Make an informational display concerning your findings. Display samples of devices used to kill animals used for furs.


  • Ackerman, Diane, The Rarest of the Rare: Vanishing Animals, Timeless Worlds, Random House, 1995
  • Adams, Douglass and Cawardine, Last Chance to See, Ballantine Books, 1992
  • Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Animals and Their Legal Rights, AWI, USA, 1990.
  • Clark, Tim (Editor), Endangered Species Recovery: Fundung the Lessons, Improving the Process, Island Press, 1994
  • Facklam, Margery, And Then There Was One: The Mysteriesof Extinction, Sierra Club Books, 1990
  • Hargrove, Eugene (Editor), The Animal Rights / Environmental Ethics Debate - The Environmental Perspective, State University of New York Press, 1992.
  • Hoyt. John, Animals In Peril: How Sustainable Use Is Wiping Out the Worlds Wildlife, Aviery Publishers, 1995
  • Nilsson, Greta, Endangered Species Handbook, Animal Welfare Institute, USA, 1983, Reprinted 1990.
  • Nilsson, Greta, Facts about Furs, Animal Welfare Institute, USA, 1980.
  • Singer, Peter, Animal Liberation _ A New Ethic For Our Treatment of Animals, Avon Books, New York, 1975. Reprinted 1990.


  • American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals,
  • 424 East 92nd Street, New York, NY 10128, 212-876-7700
  • Animal Protection Institute, 2831 Fruitbridge Road, PO Box 22505, Sacramento, CA. 95822, 916-731-5521
  • Animal Welfare Institute, PO Box 3650, Washington, DC 20007, 202-337-2332
  • Friends of Animals, 11 West 60th Street, #901, New York, NY 10023, 212-247-8120 or PO Box 1244, Norwalk. Conn. 06856, 203-866-5223
  • Fund for Animals, 200 West 57th Street, New York, NY, 212-246-2096
  • Humane Society of the United States. 2100 L Street, Washington DC 20037, 202-452-1100
  • National Geographic Society, 1145 17th Street, Washington, DC 20036-4688
  • People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front Street, Norfolk, VA. 757-622-7382