Animal liberation gone too far?

One of the most horrifying images I’ve ever seen was in connection with the fur trade. The footage was of a pile of skinned carcasses and among them was a live, fully conscious, skinned animal. Without its fur I couldn’t even determine what species it was.

Watching that video brought tears to my eyes and created a mix of strong emotions in me that I didn’t think possible.. and none of them good.

While fur has its place I guess; the demand for it as a fashion accessory rather than as protective clothing for indigenous peoples – who use the whole animal, not just the fur – is just wrong to my way of thinking.

The fur trade is sending some species to the brink of extinction and beyond. The practices of some fur farms are just shocking.

These points combined generate a sense of outrage in some people that drives them to not just boycott fur products or tap out their disgust online, but to take more direct action.

The most hands-on action is the release of animals raised in fur farms.

Some people see animal liberationists who engage in these actions as heroes, others consider them criminals or “ecoterrorists“. It’s a really polarizing topic.

A recent example of an animal liberation exercise generating plenty of discussion was the release of 50,000 mink from a fur farm in Greece. According to a brief item on Yahoo! News, the group who claimed responsibility was the Animal Liberation Front; an organization not unfamiliar with controversy.

The fur farmers believe that as a result of the action, most of the mink will die in Greece’s heat over the coming months. Mink are not native to Greece and apparently not well adapted to local weather conditions.

Yahoo News has also posted a photo of dead mink on Greece’s roads – hit by cars as they made their escape in the recent incident.

So let’s say that 99% die as a result of heat stress and being hit by vehicles. Does it justify the release? After all, those 50,000 mink were doomed to slaughter anyway and if 500 live on, that’s a good thing, right?

Perhaps it’s not quite that simple.

There are so many examples of invasive species adapting and then becoming a pest. One that springs to mind is the rabbit. After the introduction of 24 rabbits to Australia from Europe in 1859, their numbers grew to a point they became one of Australia’s biggest pests – an estimated 600 million of the critters were wreaking havoc across the country within 100 years.

A nasty disease called Myxomatosis was then used to control them – it was effective, but didn’t kill them fast – the animals suffered. Half a billion were estimated to have been killed by the virus, yet we still have an estimated 200 million rabbits running around the nation today – around 10 for every Australian.

Over the years Myxomatosis has become less effective and now other diseases are being tweaked to try and keep rabbit numbers under control. Rabbits not only cost farmers millions in lost crops each year, they attack some native plants too and are responsible for serious erosion problems as a result of the removal of vegetation. Additionally, they compete with native animals for food.

Back to the mink and a similar scenario. According to Wikipedia, the introduction of the American Mink into the wild (the entry claims sometimes through animal liberation releases) in Europe has been a real problem for the indigenous European Mink in terms of competition for food and territory. The European mink is one of the most endangered mammals in the world.

Mink are carnivores and prey on a wide range of animals. Those thousands of mink running around Greece (for however long) are also going to need to eat; and Greece’s native creatures are likely to be on the menu.

Is this just all fur trade propaganda? Perhaps, but these are all also valid points for consideration.

On a positive note, incidents like these do attract attention to the issue of the fur trade and fur farms – but in this case I’m left asking myself at what cost.

What are your thoughts?