Moscow: These disturbing pictures expose the macabre truth about the fur farms in Russia and China which supply the fashion market in the world’s leading cities, including London, Paris and New York.
Across ten time zones, the images show the reality of mink and sable gulags – many set up during the harsh Communist past – where prized animals are bred for slaughter, bringing in millions of pounds to the Russian economy every single year.
An investigation by MailOnline also reveals the appalling conditions in which wild animals, including different types of fox, are captured and killed, from being skinned alive to being poisoned by the faeces in the air, and reveals the heartless farm owners who can’t see beyond their profits.
And there are certainly profits to be made: a sable ‘blanket’ sold for a record-breaking $900,000 to a royal just a few years ago, while a coat at last year’s Fendi show was rumoured to have a price tag of $1.2million.
But many would argue, whatever price, it is too high.
Deeply shocking photographs show up to 1,000 skinned corpses of mink from animal farm Luzhskoye in the Leningrad region of western Russia.
The stinking remains of the captive mink were found here close to Znamenka biological waste disposal facility in November last year by activists from VITA Animal Rights Centre of Russia.
They were left rotting on this pyre for at least three days, causing a health hazard, but such scenes barely register any shock in Russia, a country largely immune to Western raging against fur.
A hard-hitting statement from the animal rights organisation over these pictures warned: ‘Mink given to a woman costs a lot. It costs thousands of roubles, thousands of screams, a ton of suffering and despair, kilometres of fur cleaned by human hands….’
In these fur farms the animals are condemned to ‘a complete absence of activity, constant fear, no chance to hide’.
They ‘jump from side to side for hours in their cages showing their despair.
‘There is no single animal in a farm that has not gone insane or depressed. How much time could you live in a crate?
‘Thirty per cent of animals die before they grow their winter coat that the fur industry is counting on.’
Activist Emiliya Nadin said: ‘Foxes, mink, and raccoons live in small crates with metal nets instead of flooring which cuts their paws.
‘The air they breathe is poisoned with their faeces.
‘At the end of this hell animals will go through excruciating death. In most cases the murder is rushed in order to keep the fur and remove it more easily. As a result, the still breathing animal is skinned alive.’
A significant proportion of animals are caught in the wild, not bred on farms, and VITA say: ‘If every woman wearing her fur coat could hear the scream of suffering and pain of the animal gnawing off its paw stuck in a trap, if she…saw how some animals are left disabled, it might not have been necessary to ask you to desist from wearing furs.’
There is deep concern over sable farms, where it has been reported animals have been killed by lethal injection of a drug banned in the West.
This is also a farm – set up in 1928 under Stalin – where up to 16,000 highly prized sable cubs died six year ago from starvation due to a lack of forage amid an ownership crisis which led to Vladimir Putin ordering a state takeover.
Yet today, despite Western protests, there are signs that the sable industry, of which Russia has a monopoly, is booming not declining, fuelled in part by illegal trading but also by a conscious Kremlin effort to expand fur as a money earner during the current economic crisis.
Natural Resources Minister Sergey Donskoy said recently: ‘In 2015, sales of sable skins exceeded the limit of their production by 120 per cent.’
The farm in question is now back on its feet, with a total of 27,000 sables, including 15,800 cubs, yet conditions remain bleak, as they do in many ex-Soviet fur farms.
An account by a whistleblower here said lethal Dithylin, leading to an ‘excruciating death’ from a long, slow suffocation, was used at the farm, a famous fur farm where a highly sought-sfater new type of black sable was bred during the Soviet era.
‘The drug paralyses muscles and the animal is slowly and painfully dying of suffocation while being fully conscious.
‘In Russia, it is also used against homeless animals. The European Union banned the use of Dithylin. But it is cheap.’
An appeal by VITA to the Agriculture Ministry in Russia against the use of Dithylin brought the chilling official reply: ‘The concept of cruelty is not accepted for fur farms.’
At Verkhne-Purovsky fur farm on the Yamal Peninsula in Arctic Siberia, caged sables hurtle frantically around their wire gratings, searching for an impossible escape back to the natural environment.
Director Vladimir Shevelyov is banking on them for his future business success, ditching mink in favour of sable.
‘The prime cost of mink is the highest now but it’s a lot cheaper as a fur. That’s why we are getting rid of mink completely and keeping sables,’ he said. ‘We will be only a sable farm.’
Fur from the far north is particularly valuable.
‘There is always demand for ‘soft gold’,’ he said.
Despite this, conditions on this and similar farms remain ‘primitive and barbaric’, according to animal rights campaigners.
More shocking scenes were captured at a fur farm owned spouses Vladimir Borisyonok and Yekaterina Klitsova in the village of Litusovo in the Orshansky region of Belarus, where the animals are killed by lethal injection, the final act of their unnatural lives locked in cramped cages.
This farm breeds and slaughters Scandinavian black and pearl short hair mink, along with silver blue fox, blue fox, and red fox for fine coats.
‘I’ll tell you honestly, I have no sympathy towards the animals when they are about to be killed,’ said Ms Klitsova.
‘Perhaps it is my professional immunity. On the contrary, I feel deep satisfaction.
‘I understand that the long and hard working process is about to be over.
‘I’m happy we managed to grow good fur – and that I’ll sell it and make money.’
Many outsiders do not understand the complexity of making a good fur coat, she complained.
‘Ordinary people think it’s easy: you just put an animal into crate, give it food and wait until grows,’ she said. ‘In fact, a fur farm is a hell lot of work. You need to find food, bring it, store it, cook it properly, feed the animals on time.
‘Each stage affects quality of the fur. For example, in July when animals are very small, it was very hot.
‘Eventually, in November quality of fur isn’t that good. It all went well, we vaccinated them and then all of a sudden, the heat hit 28C.
‘The animals were not ready for it and 30 to 40 animals can die in a day. Their hearts cannot deal with it.’
She is unsentimental about the slaughter, and rejects the claim that artificial fur is as good as the real thing.
‘People artificially grow flowers, kill them and sell them. I’m growing mink and foxes and selling their furs.
‘Thanks to running such a business, less fur animals are killed in their natural habitat. That’s life.
‘Artificial fur can never be compatible to natural. A mink coat is a status item.
‘A women wearing a mink coat looks ten years younger and catches glances of other people. I’m proud to be helping her in that.’
She explained: ‘Mink live around 10 years in the wild, in the farm breeding animals are kept for three years after which they are killed because with intensive feeding they develop problems with their liver.
‘But most of our mink live only eight months.
‘They are born in April and are killed in November. Foxes have the same life span.
‘However, a male fox can be kept alive for seven or eight years to breed. Some of them become fathers 30 times a season.’
After the injection the animals ‘fall asleep and their heart stops beating’, she said, skipping over the snow, agonising way their life is snuffed out, according to activists.
‘Their skins are degreased, first manually, then – in a special drum with sawdust.’
But Anzhelika Gorskaya, owner of the Wild Fur Association in Kamchatka, on Russia’s Pacific coast, claimed that arguments about fur are for the West where such items are a fashion accessory, not in Russia where they are an essential to life.
‘Breeding animals for ‘murder’ can be interpreted there as unmotivated cruelty. It shouldn’t be but it can be. But that’s for the West,’ she said.
‘But we are living in a northern country where fur really saves us from freezing and where it is needed for four to eight months a year depending on the latitude,’ she said.
In Russia fur was not a luxury item but an essential for many people, she claimed.
‘So fighting for the rights of pelted animals is not a subject for Russians.
‘And it is unlikely it becomes one in the near future.’