What is a fur-bearer?
Who are Canada’s fur-bearing animals? Below is an introduction to the animals we are committed to advocating for:
Badgers are short-legged omnivores related to wolverines, otters, fishers, martens, mink and other animals in the weasel family. They are characterized by the white stripe that runs from the tip of their nose to their shoulders, and their black cheek patches (called “badges”).
They are true burrowing animals, so much so that their front feet, which do the digging, are much larger than their hind feet. Their underground burrows are call ‘setts’, and some badgers live in clans of up to 15 other badgers (called ‘cetes’). Fierce defenders of their young, badgers have been known to fight off much larger predators, including wolves and bears. There has also been documentation of badgers and coyotes hunting cooperatively with one another.
While some farmers perceive badgers to be “pests”, they perform important ecosystem services by maintaining populations of pocket gophers, marmots and ground squirrels.
Sadly, more than 500 badgers are killed each year for their fur, which is often used to make shaving brushes.
All bears — whether polar, black or brown — are known for their large bodies, long noses and shaggy hair. While the polar bear is mostly carnivorous (and the panda lives off bamboo), the other six species are actually omnivorous. Apart from mothers and babies, bears are solitary animals. They have an excellent sense of smell, are impressive climbers and strong swimmers.
Each year in Canada, more than 2500 bears are killed for their fur. This number excludes bears killed for ‘nuisance’ or ‘trophy’ purposes, but includes the more than 500 Canadian polar bears whose fur (and parts) are sold on the international market each year. Grizzly bears tend to be targeted by trophy hunters, while black bears are killed for their fur. Five regiments of the Queen’s Guard wear real black bearskin hats as part of their uniform. Black bears are also often killed because they are perceived to be a “nuisance” when their excellent noses lead them to garbage in urban areas.
The beaver is a ‘keystone species’, which means that their existence is absolutely essential for a healthy ecosystem. Many species rely on beaver wetlands for their survival, including 50% of North America’s threatened or endangered species.
Hardworking and family oriented, these rodents may be clumsy on land, but are fast and agile swimmers. They can even hold their breath underwater for up to 20 minutes. Interesting facts about beavers are endless. For example, they build their dams not only as a means of protection against predators, but because they can’t stand to hear and feel water running against their bodies. The sound and movement of flowing water triggers their biological instinct to create dams.
Sometimes their dam building results in municipalities hiring trappers to kill families of beavers. This is especially disturbing because there are many cost-effective, non-lethal options to prevent flooding from beaver dams and to help control tree-chewing. Our organization works with municipalities across Canada to facilitate co-existence with beavers. Sadly, more than 135,000 beavers are killed each year for their fur in Canada.
Bobcats (sometimes referred to as “wildcats”) are twice the size of the average house cat. They have long legs, big paws and their ears have tufts, similar to the Canadian lynx. Bobcats are named for their missing or “bobbed” tail.
As skilled hunters, bobcats eat rabbits, birds, mice, squirrels and small rodents. They are solitary animals and are found all over North America.
Sadly, bobcats are targeted for their soft spotted fur, with more than 1700 killed each year in Canada.
The cougar (also known as the “mountain lion”, “puma”, or “panther”) is a large, solitary, nocturnal cat. The diet of a cougar consists primarily of deer, elk, moose and big horn sheep. If farmers do not shelter their animals appropriately, cougars will sometimes feed on domestic cattle, horses and sheep.
Cougars, like all wild animals, tend to go out of their way to avoid people. This is especially impressive given that they range from the Yukon to the southern Andes in South America. They have the largest range of any large, wild mammal in the West. Excessive hunting and human encroachment has caused population drops throughout their traditional ranges. The Eastern Cougar has been declared extinct in the US, and their status in Canada went from ‘Endangered’ to ‘Data Deficient’ due to a lack of data to even evaluate the species.
Perhaps the most misunderstood of all fur-bearing animals, coyotes have a bad reputation across Canada – and media sensationalism is largely to blame. This, combined with a general lack of education and awareness, means that many people perceive coyotes as dangerous, aggressive animals. This is absolutely untrue.
In reality, coyotes are playful canids who sleep deeply, are devoted parents and practice monogamy (with a much higher success rate than humans!) Alpha males have even been known to leave their packs and lead solitary lives after the death of their mate.
Coyotes are — almost without exception — shy animals who avoid humans, and scare easily. They are also closely related to the domestic dog. In fact, they are so closely related, they can actually breed. On average coyotes weigh 15 to 30 lbs, and are considered ‘nature’s clean up crew’ as they keep small mammal populations in check (including rabbits, squirrels and mice), eat deadstock, and will even eat human garbage. Coyotes can be found in every province across Canada, including urban areas. They are extremely adaptable and thrive in developed landscapes.
There are two major problems facing coyotes. First, human contact and feeding puts them at risk. Once fed (intentionally or not), coyotes can experience an increase in proximity tolerance, leading to increased sightings and occassionally issues with outdoor pets. Secondly, over the last few years, coyote fur has become popular as trim on winter apparel. Clothing giant Canada Goose Inc., exclusively uses coyote fur as trim on their jackets. Devastatingly, almost 100,000 coyotes are killed for their fur each year in Canada.
The ermine (also known as the ‘stoat’), is part of the weasel family. Historically they were targeted by the fur trade for use on the ceremonial robes of the UK House of Lords, as well as for the hoods of university academics, and some religious figures. In the summer, their fur is brown on the back and head, and white on the belly. In the winter, their fur is snow white. Ermines are clever animals, never digging their own burrows, but instead using the burrows of the rodents they kill.
Each year in Canada, over 28,000 ermines are killed for their fur.
Along with domestic dogs and coyotes, the fox is a member of the Canidae family. Slightly smaller than a medium sized domestic dog, they are characterized by their bushy tail and long narrow snout. While more than 35 species are referred to as foxes, only 12 species actually belong to the Vulpes genus of “true foxes”.
Foxes typically live in small family units, where their omnivorous diet includes rodents, grasses, fruit, berries, and insects. Foxes bury food for later consumption, much like our domestic dogs.
The majority of foxes killed for their fur are confined in small wire cages on fur farms. This macabre practice prevents foxes from engaging in natural behaviours that are necessary for their well-being, including foraging for food, digging, and preparing a den.
The “Recommended Code of Practice for Ranched Fox” produced by Agriculture Canada suggests that foxes should be killed by anal electrocution. Probes are inserted into the anus and mouth and an electric current is delivered for a minimum of 5 seconds.
Over 30,000 foxes are killed each year in Canada for their fur.
Fishers are a member of the weasel family and are closely related to the marten. Their range covers much of the boreal forest in Canada, and while they are excellent climbers, they spend most of their time on the forest floor. Despite their name, fishers seldom eat fish, and instead are one of the only animals who hunt porcupine. They also eat small animals, fruit and certain mushrooms. Like eastern gray squirrels, fishers have paws that can rotate 180 degrees, enabling them to walk down a tree, head first.
Sadly, during the early part of the 20th century, trapping drove the fisher to near extinction. While the introduction of some trapping restrictions has enabled the survival of the species, fishers have not rebounded to their historical populations.
Over 17,000 fishers are trapped and killed each year in Canada for their fur.
The Canadian lynx is a nocturnal, primarily solitary animal who lives in the forest and tundra regions across Canada and into parts of Alaska. They can also be found in some of the northern United States. They are larger than the bobcat and more than twice the size of a domestic cat, weighing up to 30 pounds.
Lynx are characterized by their short tail and the tufts of fur on the tips of their ears. They also have large paws with a sizeable gap between the first and second toes which help them travel long distances on the snow. Their big toe is set at a wide angle which offers them a strong grip on the snow.
While lynx are skilled climbers and swimmers, their diet is almost exclusive to (and dependent on) snowshoe hares. If they cannot feed on hare, they will hunt medium-sized mammals and birds.
Around 7,500 lynx are trapped and killed for their fur each year in Canada.
Martens are solitary, nocturnal animals who are related to wolverines, mink, badgers, ferrets, and weasels. They live in Canadian forests, which allows them to utilize their excellent tree climbing skills.
These agile animals are similar in size to an average house cat, and are characterized by their slender bodies and bushy tail. They typically have dark brown fur with a distinctive cream coloured throat. As omnivores, they will eat a varied diet, including small mammals, fish, insects, and fruit.
Trapping has had a devastating effect on martens. For example, there are approximately 300 Newfoundland Marten remaining, thanks to the fur trade in the early 1900’s. While it is now illegal to trap Newfoundland marten, they are still routinely caught in traps set for other animals (as traps cannot discriminate who they catch). Deforestation also threatens the marten.
While there used to be three species of mink, the North American Sea Mink was trapped to extinction in the 1800’s. The remaining two species — the European and American mink — are still targeted by trappers and fur farmers.
Mink are carnivorous animals, with a diet consisting of rodents, fish, frogs, and birds. While they are good climbers, mink are truly semi-aquatic animals, as proven by their preference for spending up to 60% of their day swimming. This makes the life of a mink on a fur farm all the more terrible.
Since global demand for their fur is so high, farming mink is a lucrative operation. They are kept in small wire cages, where they are denied access to water. To give context, the natural territory of a mink is equal to 6400 NHL hockey rinks. On fur farms, a mink is kept in a cage the size of a single sheet of paper. They are typically killed either by carbon monoxide or by neck breaking. This method of killing is suggested in the “Recommended Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Mink”, published by Agriculture Canada.
Over 2.5 million mink are killed each year in Canada. The province of Nova Scotia alone kills over 1.3 million mink. The majority of Canadian mink pelts are shipped to China.
Muskrats can be found in marshes or alongside ponds, lakes, rivers and streams. These rodents are much smaller than beavers (weighing a maximum of about 4.5 pounds), and have thick brown fur. Their rear feet are webbed for swimming, but their long, scaled tail does most of the work.
A muskrat lives with his/her family in a ‘lodge’ that can be up to three feet high. They will burrow entrances to their lodges into the banks of streams or ponds. The majority of their diet consists of plants, but they will occasionally eat mussels, frogs, crayfish, fish, small turtles and snails.
More than 265,000 muskrats are killed for their fur each year in Canada. Their fur is typically used as trim on hats, most famously on the winter uniform hats of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
There are two species of otter in Canada: river otters and sea otters. River otters are primarily found near coastal shorelines, rivers, streams, wetlands, ponds and lakes while sea otters spend most of their time in the ocean. Sea otters are commonly pictured floating on their backs. They eat a wide variety of seafood and apart from primates, they are the only animal to use tools (they use rocks to crack open shells).
Sea otters are classified as ‘Threatened’ by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and therefore it is illegal to trap or hunt them. Sadly, river otters continue to be targeted for their fur, with around 10,000 killed each year.
Rabbits are timid herbivores who enjoy burrowing and can be found in a variety of habitats across Canada, including grasslands, wetlands, fields and wooded areas.
They enjoy eating a variety of grasses (including alfalfa, and timothy hay), apples, carrots and green vegetables. Their front teeth never stop growing, which is why rabbits graze and chew constantly. People who live with rabbits describe them as sensitive, intelligent animals who can be affectionate despite their timidity. Rabbits can be litter trained, enjoy playing with toys, and have every bit as much discernible personality as other domestic animals, including dogs or cats.
While it is unclear exactly how many rabbits are killed for their fur, according to the Agricultural Census for 2011, around 200,000 rabbits are killed for their meat in Canada each year.
Raccoons can be found all across Canada, particularly in urban environments and parks. Raccoons are omnivores and will eat frogs, fish, eggs, fruits, nuts, insects and leftover food scraps. They are particularly adaptive animals and will live in trees or chimneys, under porches, or in attics.
They are characterized by a black mask of fur surrounding their eyes, fuzzy grey-brown fur, and ringed tails. Their intelligence is widely celebrated, with studies showing they can recall solutions to tasks for up to three years. Their tiny hands are capable of manipulating a variety of objects, including the lids on garbage cans and pet doors. The most important sense for a raccoon is its sense of touch. This ‘hyper sensitivity’ translates into nearly two-thirds of the sensory perception in a raccoon’s cerebral cortex being devoted to processing tactile impulses. This is more than any other studied animal in the world.
Over 30,000 raccoons are trapped and killed each year directly for the Canadian fur trade. An untold number of so-called “nuisance” raccoons are killed each year in Canada.
While not native to Canada, raccoon dogs deserve a mention.
Raccoon dogs are a member of the dog family native to eastern Asia. Confined to tiny cages on fur farms, extensive documentation has revealed these animals suffering and dying for their fur in intensive confinement operations in China and Finland.
While they do bear a superficial resemblance to North American raccoons, raccoon dogs belong exclusively to the Canidae (dog) family and are not related to the Procyonidae (raccoon) family.
In Canada, raccoon dog fur is deceptively labeled as ‘Asiatic raccoon’ or ‘raccoon’ in an attempt to make the product more marketable.
Each year in Canada, despite international condemnation of the practice, hundreds of thousands of harp seals are bludgeoned to death, primarily off the coast of Newfoundland.
While it is illegal to hunt newborn harp seals and young hooded seals, as soon as the seal pups begin to molt their downy white fur at a mere 12–14 days old, they are considered fair game.
For decades, the Canadian seal hunt has been criticized for its cruelty to animals. Horrific evidence in the form of photographs, video footage, and veterinary/scientific reports have documented the annual slaughter, which in addition to being archaic, is a grossly irresponsible allocation of taxpayers’ resources.
Seals are killed for their fur and oil. There is no active international market for seal meat.
Skunks are common across Canada, and routinely spotted in urban environments. These omnivorous mammals will eat a wide variety of food, including insects, grubs, small rodents, frogs, snakes, berries, leaves, nuts, and food waste from humans.
They are primarily characterized by their black fur with the white stripe running from the tip of their nose, down their back and onto their tail. They are also notorious for the incredible odour they will spray from their anal glands as a means of defending themselves. Although they have an excellent sense of smell and hearing, they have poor vision.
While surprising to some, skunks are targeted for their fur. Companies (such as Fendi) use skunk fur for decoration on items such as handbags, which can retail for thousands of dollars.
While more than 500 skunks are intentionally killed by the fur industry each year, there is no data on the number of skunks (perceived to be “pests”) killed in municipalities across Canada.
Squirrels are a common sight across Canada’s landscapes. All squirrels belong to a family called Sciuridae which includes tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, woodchucks, flying squirrels and prairie dogs.
These animals are curious, agile and adaptive, with a diet consisting of plants, seeds, nuts, fruit and other vegetation. The eastern gray squirrel can turn their paws 180 degrees, enabling them to descend a tree, head first.
Nearly 40,000 squirrels are trapped and killed for their fur each year in Canada, each pelt usually bringing in just over $.90. There is no data on the number of squirrels killed by “pest control” companies.
As nature’s top predator, they are a “keystone species”, making them an essential part of maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
Often characterized by their grey fur, bushy tail, long legs, and large paws, wolves are the largest member of the dog family and are similar in appearance to a German Shepherd or sled dog. Males weigh an average of 95-99 pounds and females can weigh up to 85 pounds.
Wolves live and hunt in packs of 6-10 animals (a nuclear family) and are known to travel large distances. They are very social and communicate through a variety of vocalizations (i.e.: howling). They are carnivores and prefer to eat deer, elk and moose.
Like coyotes, wolves are widely misunderstood by the public and very rarely pose a threat to humans beings. Hunting and trapping wolves has resulted in their range being reduced by about two-thirds. Wolves have earned a reputation in the fur industry for being notoriously difficult to trap. Despite this advantage, just under 3000 are killed each year in Canada for their fur.
Wolverines are primarily found in boreal forests and the alpine tundra of Northern Canada. They are the largest land-dwelling species of the weasel family and are characterized by their short, stocky frame which is often said to resemble a cross between a badger and a small bear. The wolverine is known for being an extremely strong animal, with documented evidence of wolverines killing prey many times larger than themselves.
Wolverines are targeted for their thick, dark, oily fur which is resistant to frost. According to the federal government, the Eastern Wolverine is listed as ‘Endangered’ but may sadly be extinct. This is largely a result of trapping. The Western Wolverine is listed as ‘Special Concern’ which means it is at risk of being endangered. Despite this, trapping Western Wolverines is still legal. Between 500-1000 wolverines are killed each year in Canada.
Wolverines are hated by many trappers, as they have been known to follow traplines in search of easy (trapped) prery.