With outspoken celebrities condemning it or literally being attacked for wearing it, it’s no secret the fur trade is a controversial topic.
The resentment to fur as fashion comes down to the treatment of animals. Many are outraged – and rightly so - at “fur farms”, where animals are treated horrifically before being killed inhumanely.
But is the fur trade that black and white?
Is there a middle-ground?
The answer could be right here in New Zealand.
The problem with possums
There’s an old joke in New Zealand about people swerving their car when they see a possum – not to avoid it, but to hit it.
Possums are native to Australia, and so have their own natural enemies such as snakes, dingoes, goannas and of course, fire.
It’s a different story in New Zealand, with possums having been introduced to the country in the 1830s.
With no natural predators here, they have been able to flourish, spreading quickly and destroying native bush along the way.
Possums have spread to every corner of New Zealand, and their damage is obvious in many areas. In some parts of the country, they have eaten entire canopies of native tress, including totara, rata, kowhai, titoki and kohekohe.
It is estimated possums destroy 20 thousand tons of vegetation, per night.
The danger to native wildlife
Unfortunately, it’s not just the native bush possums are a danger to. They are also threatening indigenous animals, including the endangered kiwi.
They love to eat smaller birds, many of which are flightless and can’t escape. Even the bigger birds aren’t safe from the dangers of the possum, as they eat eggs and chicks, preventing further generations from growing and reproducing.
Simply put, possums are having disastrous consequences on the New Zealand ecosystem. They’re not just pests – it goes further than that. Possums threaten the very survival of what makes New Zealand environmentally unique.
If there’s such a thing as an ethical fur, it’s possum fur
Culling possums for their fur would tick many green boxes: local, fair-trade, biodegradable, reusable, sustainable.
Possum fur is a natural product that comes from renewable resources, and with an estimated 70 million possums in New Zealand, there’s plenty to go around.
In comparison, fake fur is made from petroleum-based products derived from non-renewable resources. In fact, it can take up to 10 barrels of oil to make one fake fur coat.
Possum fur has a life span of up to 30 years, whereas fake fur can take up to 1000 years to biodegrade.
The biggest argument against the fur trade is the treatment of animals. In New Zealand, there are no fur farms.
All possum fur in New Zealand comes from wild pest populations. The Department of Conservation agrees fur recovery is one of the solutions for the control of possums for natural heritage protection.
Every possum killed in New Zealand – whether it be for fur or not – is one less possum destroying our native flora and fauna.
Possum hunting has become its own trade in New Zealand, with many people making a living from it.
Possum hunters are given special access to areas of land owned by the Department of Conservation, which in turn helps New Zealand with this nationwide problem, without a single penny of tax-payer money being spent.
These hunters and trappers have a duty to adhere to the Animal Welfare Act 1999, and care for the welfare of the animals they capture.
It is illegal for any hunter to cause or contribute to any unnecessary pain, suffering or distress of any animal, including possums.
This extends to the traps hunters use. Any traps used for hunting possums must be visited within a day of being set, and are obligated to reach a humane standard which is set by the International Fur Trade Federation.
This standard requires the animal to be killed outright and quickly, without the need for unnecessary suffering.
Why possum fur is so desirable
Possum fur is the third warmest in the world, after the polar bear and arctic fox.
It’s also water-resistant, light and incredibly soft, making it much sought-after, not only on the catwalks of Paris and Milan, but on farms and ranches across the world.
The secret of possum fibre is in its unique, hollow structure, which gives it special properties not found in other wool and fabrics.
Mankind has used animal fur for tens of thousands of years to keep warm. By using New Zealand possum, we’re not only staying true to nature, but saving indigenous, unique wildlife at the same time.
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