It seems ridiculous to have to point this out, but animals are not just fashion accessories. Yet so often, that seems to be how they are viewed by the industries that make money off their fur or skins. Rabbits on angora farms in China scream and writhe in pain as workers tear the fur right out of their skin. Sheep used for wool are left battered and bloody as workers in shearing sheds punch and kick them and cut off wide strips of flesh, causing gaping wounds. And cows are often skinned alive for leather, kicking and crying out in terror, because slaughter lines move so fast.

It seems ridiculous to have to point this out, but animals are not just fashion accessories. Yet so often, that seems to be how they are viewed by the industries that make money off their fur or skins. Rabbits on angora farms in China scream and writhe in pain as workers tear the fur right out of their skin. Sheep used for wool are left battered and bloody as workers in shearing sheds punch and kick them and cut off wide strips of flesh, causing gaping wounds. And cows are often skinned alive for leather, kicking and crying out in terror, because slaughter lines move so fast.

It’s tempting to blame such cruelty on consumers’ apparently insatiable demand for “fast fashion,” which forces suppliers to produce the greatest volume of fur and skins in the cheapest way possible. But as a new PETA eyewitness investigation reveals, even on the other end of the fashion spectrum — the so-called “luxury” market, in which handbags sell for tens of thousands of dollars each — animals are treated as nothing more than commodities, forced to live in filth and senselessly killed.

PETA investigators in Texas and Zimbabwe documented the appalling conditions in which animals are raised and killed for “luxury” bags, belts and watchbands.

In Winnie, Texas, there’s an alligator factory that sends skins to a tannery owned by Hermès, which makes the famous Birkin bags. PETA’s investigator found alligators there kept in fetid water and dank, dark sheds without sunshine, fresh air or even basic medical care. At just a year old, they’re killed and their skins are sent to France and made into “luxury” items such as watchbands.

As PETA’s investigator documented, sometimes the slaughter process was badly botched. Workers repeatedly shot alligators in the head with a captive-bolt gun and stabbed conscious alligators to try to dislocate their vertebrae — even though a manager had admitted that “reptiles will continue to live” through that.

Some animals were still conscious, kicking and flailing, even minutes after workers tried to kill them.

After they were cut into, the alligators were briefly bled and then dropped into a bin of ice water. But because some alligators had survived the attempts to slaughter them, they may have instead drowned or died of hypothermia in these bins.

In Zimbabwe, at the facility of one of the world’s largest exporters of Nile crocodile skins, tens of thousands of crocodiles are confined to concrete pits from birth to slaughter. They are never given the opportunity to engage in natural behavior, such as digging tunnels, protecting their young or searching for food as they would do in the wild.

They are stunned and then killed by having their necks cut, a wire rammed down their spines and their brains scrambled with a metal rod.

If left alone, not killed for fashion, Nile crocodiles can live to be up to 80 years old. But at this facility, they are slaughtered when they’re only about 3. That’s when their belly skins are the optimal size to be used for handbags.

It takes two to three crocodiles to make just one bag.

Most of us will never buy a $50,000 Birkin bag or even a $2,000 watch. But whenever we choose any fashions made of skins, fur or wool, animals are the ones who pay the price. The only way to ensure that we’re not buying into cruelty is to leave all animal skins out of our wardrobes and choose animal-friendly vegan fashions instead.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Paula Moore is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org. Information about PETA’s funding may be found at www.peta.org/about/numbers.asp.

This essay is available to Tribune News Service subscribers. Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of Tribune or its editors.

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© 2015 People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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