The use of fur in fashion has always been an ethically dubious practice. The fashion industry has been growing at a scorching pace across economies, and so has the controversial practice of using animal products in dresses and accessories. When it comes to making a moral assessment of this practice, one has to give fair and balanced consideration to the lives of the animals involved. Wool, for example, is an acceptable product, for it is ‘sheared’ off a sheep and allowing it to live. On the other hand fur-coats made from the process of ‘skinning’ an animal is outright cruelty to animals. Since each fur-coat is the result of killing an animal, the practice throws up several moral conundrums to consumers.
Historically, fur-coats used to be key for people to survive in cold climes. Even today, many indigenous populations depend on fur-coats for survival. But the continued use of fur in urban societies is not called for, when one takes into consideration the availability of cheap-yet-effective synthetic alternatives for insulation. Hence, far from being a necessity for survival, today fur is purely being used for purposes of fashionable consumption, which is quite unacceptable. In this context, I strongly oppose the continued use of fur in the fashion products. The fashion might argue that they treat the animals fairly well and they are killed without causing pain. But, irrespective of pain, killing of animals should be avoided whenever possible, more so because many of the animals are in the endangered species list. And hence the use of fur in fashion products will have to stop at the earliest.
The setting up of traps to capture wild animals is another controversial practice. But, unlike the issue of fashionable fur products, the ethical dilemmas in using traps are not straight forward. Some indigenous hunter-gatherer societies living in remote parts of the world do employ this method to capture food. At the other extreme are poachers, who capture valued animals for lucrative gains in illegal markets. These people trap animals so that they can sell them alive or select body parts that are in high demand. Some of the prominent cases of illegal poaching in recent decades happened with regards to elephants (tusks), pandas (pets), rhinoceros (horns), etc. So, traps set by poachers should definitely be condemned on moral and legal grounds.
Some traps are set by gamesman, for whom hunting of wild animals is a pastime. This tradition developed during medieval times as a sporting event for members of royal family. It used to be a badge of honour to display the embalmed specimens of killed animals in royal households. But in twentieth century, when democracy is the leading political arrangement, there is little place for such showmanship. And those countries that still allow trapping in the name of such traditions will have to rethink their laws.
Finally, there are legitimate uses of traps, of which I approve. Conservationists sometimes resort to trapping in order to relocate animals from high-risk environments to relatively safe ones. This they do because the animals may not have the ability to migrate to safety on their own. Wildlife enthusiasts and documentary filmmakers too sometimes trap animals without causing them any injury or great distress. This is also a legitimate exercise, for their efforts bring awareness to the general public about rare species of life forms that thrive in remote parts of the world. In other words their temporary arresting of animals can be justified because it is done to observe, study and inform the larger society about the richness and diversity of the planet they inhabit. Hence, I am okay with the concept of trapping for these genuine causes, whereas against it for poaching, game-hunting, etc.