Mink/fur prices: cull of the wild

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Pity the American mink. The otter-like creatures are preyed on by coyotes, wolves and, above all, humans, who progressed from trapping the animals to farming them for their fur. Now 17m of the semiaquatic mammals face a nationwide cull in Denmark over fears of a coronavirus mutation — assuming, that is, Danish legislators work out how they can do so legally.

The Scandinavian country accounts for roughly half the 35m mink farmed in Europe in 2018, according to latest available data collated by animal activist group Humane Society International. That still ranks it behind China, which leads the pack worldwide with 20m.

Even before the Danes’ botched cull, the allure of mink was waning. The fur was a staple of bygone glamour days — it adorned 200 pairs of earmuffs ordered by actress Elizabeth Taylor as Christmas gifts. Mink has fallen out of fashion. Animal rights activists have ensured fur wearers are now more often the object of scorn than envy. Luxury designers from Gucci to Prada, sensing that fur had shifted from social cachet to social gaffe, stripped their rails of the real stuff. Faux fur became cool.

Of course, the memo never went truly global. Diehard fans remain in Russia and China. Chinese retailers like Fangfangjia Fur — an online store catering to “urban fashionable ladies who have personal unique taste” — continue to snap up pelts at auction.

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Line chart and lollipop chart showing a decline in mink sales

Still, Chinese production is running at a third of the peak rates of 2014. As with many things, coronavirus is accelerating trends rather than ripping them apart. The botched cull has forced co-operative auctioneer Kopenhagen Fur to bring down the gavel on itself; it expects to wind up over the next few years. Its smaller peer Toronto-based North American Fur Auction ran into trouble last year, before coronavirus, when a principal lender pulled the plug. NAFA was forced to file for Chapter 11 style restructuring a year ago. 

Data on Kopenhagen’s sales paints a picture of dwindling demand. Average pelt prices are less than half the levels of February 2014; recent auctions have seen as much as 40-odd per cent of pelts go unsold. Some farmers report that current prices do not even cover the cost of production. Sooner or later, the only American mink left in western Europe will be feral, mounting a last stand against resurgent wild otters.

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