Animal rights activists have long raised the issue of the ethics of animal trapping and recently the debate has heated up. This time it is centered on the RCMP’s traditional fur hats.
An animal rights group, the Association for the Protection of Fur-bearing Animals, have been determined to persuade the RCMP to retire their traditional hats since the 1970s. The fur hats are made of muskrat pelts. Muskrats are trapped for these pelts and that is where the association’s problem with the hats comes in.
In September 2014, the RCMP gave in to the association’s request and decided to replace their hats with a non-fur alternative. However, only two days after the RCMP made the announcement, the Conservative government overturned their decision with a small compromise; that there would be a significant reduction in the production of the traditional fur hats.
This decision to ditch the hats, although quickly changed, left many people close to the fur trade feeling outraged and abandoned. The fur trade in Canada has been a sustainable and renewable resource, part of our economy and ecology since 1534. People living in rural communities and many First Nations rely on trapping as an important source of income and food.
Trappers and hunters receive training and are regulated through registered trap-lines, harvest quotas, hunting seasons, and other means to maintain healthy fur-bearing populations. With our long trapping history, does it make sense to retire the hats so easily?
On the other hand, the animal rights groups also serve a vital role; to shine the light on inhumane treatment of animals. For example, animals suffering needlessly when caught in neck snares and slowly choking to death or on fur farms where animals are raised in cramped and inhumane conditions. In these situations, changes need to happen.
The Fur Institute of Canada was founded in 1983, mandated by federal, provincial, and territorial wildlife ministers to advocate for the smart and sustainable use of our country’s fur resources. Many would argue though that the fur industry, at least in Canada, is highly regulated and addresses many of the concerns of animal rights groups.
Muskrats are not simply trapped for monetary gain or fashion; as a part of managing wildlife, we attempt to keep animals in balance with their habitats and resources. Muskrats require some level of population management. With a high reproductive rate, they can get out of control quickly and need to be reduced.
The benefit of them being fur bearers is that animals taken out of the population can provide an income as opposed to simply being disposed of.
The sale of pelts provides much needed income to trappers living in rural communities where income opportunities can be limited. Trapping has long been a part of First Nations culture and of the registered trappers in Canada today, over 40 per cent are First Nations.
The animal rights groups have a valuable role to play in today’s society addressing the many examples of cruel and inhumane treatment of animals. The fur trading industry also plays an important role to help manage wildlife, create income, and to provide valuable resources for us to use. It is highly regulated and continually strives to be as humane as possible.
It’s easy to find someone who can extol the merits and faults of both sides of the argument. Do animal rights trump our needs? Does tradition carry sufficient weight to sway an argument? What do you think?