The Arctic foxes look dangerously obese. Dense rolls of skin cover their bodies like heavy blankets, making it difficult for them to move. Their tails are unusually thick, and their faces are squashed between folds of fat.
These foxes could easily pass for creatures in a medieval fairy tale — in fact, one Swedish journalist dubbed them “monsterrävar,” which translates into English as “monster foxes.” But they’re actually real. Fur farmers in Finland are deliberately breeding foxes to have extra large skin, according to Oikeutta eläimille, a Finnish animal welfare group. Why? So the farmers get more money for the animals’ fur
“When I saw the pictures, I knew this was something that people haven’t seen before,” Kristo Muurimaa, communications officer for Oikeutta eläimille, told The Dodo. “Most people have seen the horrible conditions on fur farms, like the tiny, barren cages that the animals live in, but this was something new.”
There are over 900 fur farms in Finland, according to Muurimaa, and it’s a common practice for farmers to breed foxes to have extra rolls of skin. Muurimaa bases this assumption on the fact that Finnish auction houses frequently sell large skins that match the dimensions of these so-called monster foxes.
“These animals are divided into size groups when their skins are sold in the auction house,” Muurimaa said. “More than 80 percent of the skins … belong to the two biggest size groups.”
But the animals pay a huge price for their fur — their extra rolls of skin lead to many health issues that cause them to suffer more than they already are.
“The first problem is the feet,” Muurimaa said. “Their feet can’t seem to bear the weight. In nature, an Arctic fox weighs 3 or 4 kilos [6 to 8 pounds], and these animals weigh over 20 kilos [44 pounds] … and this causes deformities in their legs and causes difficulties in moving.”
Not only do they have trouble getting around, but they can’t see very well.
“They have all the same health problems that obese people have,” Muurimaa added.
Animal breeding that causes pain and suffering is actually prohibited under the Finnish Animal Welfare Act, yet this practice has yet to be stopped, Muurimaa explained.
When foxes like this are raised for their fur, they’re usually killed when they’re less than a year old. But animals used for breeding purposes are kept alive longer — and Muurimaa believes the foxes in the photographs are male breeders.
“They are the best animals — the farmer keeps them to selectively breed for size,” Muurimaa said. “So these animals might suffer for three or four years on the farm.”
When the foxes are eventually killed, they go through a tremendous amount of pain and suffering — farmers often kill them through electrocution by inserting electric prods into their mouths and backsides. Farmers prefer this method because it’s inexpensive and it doesn’t damage the fur, according to Muurimaa.
Once the animals have been killed, their fur is sold under the Saga Furs brand, and manufactured for major clothing brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Michael Kors, according to Oikeutta eläimille.
Saga Furs could not immediately be reached for comment.
Fortunately, there are ways you can help these foxes — and prevent more animals being bred this way.
“People can give feedback to companies selling real fur,” Muurimaa said. “We also want to put pressure on the Finnish government, and for that, people can contact our minister for agriculture, Mr. Jari Leppä.”
To urge Mr. Jari Leppä to put a stop to selective breeding at Finnish fur farms, you can send him an email or message him through Twitter.