BOOK REVIEW: Facts About Furs

Facts About Furs

Nilsson offers a comprehensive historical perspective on the fur trade, with many photos, illustrations, and reproduced advertisements. The main focus is on the animals who are killed to provide luxury clothing. Discussion of the different traps and snares used to capture wildlife is discussed (with many pictures of traps with their intended or unintended victims), with special emphasis on the infamous leghold trap, which, like the Canadian seal slaughter, has been a perpetual bane to humane advocates.

Readers should note, however, that this book was published over 30 years ago and the numbers and statistics are no longer up-to-date. For example, the postmillenium image of the fur coat is no longer a floor-length mink coat but a less-expensive garment trimmed with animal skins. Today, the bulk of the fur sold on the American market is cheaply factory-farmed in China; the unfortunates include foxes, raccoon dogs, and yes, domestic dogs and cats whose pelts are normally passed off as being from some other species that can be legally sold in the West.

Some of the issues in Facts, however, can be extrapolated to the present day. The youth-targeted “fun furs” of the 1970s are now the inexpensive and ubiquitous cloth parkas trimmed with coyote, raccoon dog, or domestic dog fur from China. Like the “fun furs” of the baby boomer era, these furs are marketed to young people and those who would normally not purchase a full-length fur.

One can also see the dirty tricks of the animal-use contingent are still going strong as well. The shameful campaign waged by trappers against a 1977 measure to ban leghold traps in Ohio is detailed here. Trapping industry-funded ads claimed that the ban would also extend to exterminating rodents in private homes; one commercial showed domestic rats of the pet store variety spilling out of a terrified mother’s cabinets as she prepared breakfast for her family. “For the sake of your family, vote No!” the ads squealed. Two decades later, an even more ridiculous industry campaign ruled the airwaves when a bill to end mourning dove shooting came before voters in Ohio. If this measure passed, hunting groups told Ohioans, meat would disappear from supermarket shelves, animal research would end, and children would die of horrible diseases as a result. In both instances, the voters were fooled by this propaganda.

Readers may also be surprised by the sheer number of animals who have been the targets of the fur trade. Koalas and colobus monkeys were once routinely slaughtered to make coats and rugs. The Australian kangaroo slaughter, which continues to this day, is also examined. In one of the saddest photos I have ever seen, an orphaned joey (baby kangaroo) stands bewildered among dozens of adult kangaroo carcasses, staring intently at one propped-up “trophy” in particular, in all possibility her mother.

(review originally appeared at


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