It may come from a sheep, goat, or Tibetan antelope. It may be called "wool," "mohair," "pashmina," "shahtoosh," or "cashmere." But no matter what it's called, any kind of wool causes harm to the animals from whom it is taken.
Currently exploiting more than 100 million miserable sheep, Australia produces 30 percent of all wool used worldwide. Holdings consist of thousands of sheep, making individual attention to their needs and even to medical emergencies impossible.
In Australia, the most commonly raised sheep are Merinos, specifically bred to have wrinkly skin, which means more wool per animal. This unnatural overload of wool causes many sheep to collapse and even die of heat exhaustion during hot months, and the wrinkles collect urine and moisture. Attracted to the moisture, flies lay eggs in the folds of skin, and the hatched maggots can eat the sheep alive. To prevent this so-called "flystrike," Australian ranchers perform a barbaric operation-called "mulesing"-where they force live sheep onto their backs, restrain their legs between metal bars, and, without any painkillers whatsoever, slice chunks of flesh from around their tail area. This is done to cause smooth, scarred skin that can't harbor fly eggs. Ironically, the exposed, bloody wounds themselves often get flystrike before they heal.
Within weeks of birth, lambs' ears are hole-punched, their tails are chopped off, and the males are castrated without anesthetics. Male lambs are castrated when they are between 2 and 8 weeks old, either by making an incision and cutting their testicles out or with a rubber ring used to cut off blood supply-one of the most painful methods of castration possible. Every year, hundreds of lambs die before the age of 8 weeks from exposure or starvation, and mature sheep die every year from disease, lack of shelter, and neglect.
Millions of sheep who are less profitable to wool farmers are discarded for slaughter. This results in the cruel live export of 6.5 million sheep every year from Australia to the Middle East and North Africa, where sheep are crammed aboard multitiered open-deck ships. Nearly 800,000 sheep enter the live export trade from the U.K. and are slaughtered abroad.
Australian and New Zealand sheep are slaughtered in the Middle East, after enduring a grueling, weeks- or months-long journey on extremely crowded, disease-ridden ships with little access to food or water through all weather extremes. Many sheep fall ill, many become stuck in feces and are unable to move, and many are trampled to death by other sheep trying not to fall or trying to reach water when it is available. Shipboard mortality ranges up to 10 percent.
In 2002, 14,500 sheep reportedly died from heat stress while in transit to the Middle East. Their carcasses were thrown overboard. Between August and October of 2003, more than 50,000 sheep suffered aboard the MV Cormo Express when the Saudi Arabian government refused to accept the sheep because too many of them were believed to be infected with "scabby mouth," an infectious disease that results in sores and scabs around the animals' mouths. After nearly two months aboard this ship, with very little food and water, often in temperatures exceeding 100°F, the African nation of Eritrea accepted the sheep for slaughter.
When the survivors arrive at their destination, they are dragged from the ships and thrown into the backs of trucks and cars, eventually to have their throats slit while they are fully conscious. In the Muslim nations of North Africa and the Middle East, ritual slaughter is exempt from humane slaughter regulations. Some sheep are slaughtered en masse in lots, while others are taken home, often in the trunks of cars, and slaughtered individually by the purchasers.
Click here to read news stories about Australia's live export trade.
Click here for more information on Australia’s cruel live-export trade.
Click here to read PETA’s full report on mulesing and live exports, The Urgent Need for a Permanent Ban on Mulesing and Live Sheep Exports in the Australian Wool Industry Based on Animal Welfare Concerns.
Many people believe that shearing sheep helps animals who might otherwise be burdened with too much wool. But without human interference, sheep grow just enough wool to protect themselves from temperature extremes. The fleece provides effective insulation against both cold and heat.
Shearers are usually paid by volume, not by the hour, which encourages fast work without regard for the welfare of the sheep. Says one eyewitness: "[T]he shearing shed must be one of the worst places in the world for cruelty to animals … I have seen shearers punch sheep with their shears or their fists until the sheep's nose bled. I have seen sheep with half their faces shorn off …"
Cashmere and Other Kinds of Wool
Cashmere is made from cashmere goats. Those with "defects" in their coats are typically killed before 2 years of age. Industry experts expect farmers to kill 50 to 80 percent of young goats whose coats do not meet standards.
Contrary to what many consumers think, "shearling" is not sheared wool; the term refers to the sheep. A shearling is a yearling sheep who has been shorn once. A shearling garment is made from a sheep or lamb shorn shortly before slaughter; the skin is tanned with the wool still on it.
Angora rabbits are strapped to a board for shearing, kicking powerfully in protest. The clippers inevitably bite into their flesh, with bloody results. Angoras have very delicate foot pads, making life on a wire cage floor excruciating and ulcerated feet a common condition. Because male angoras have only 75 to 80 percent of the wool yield of females, on many farms they are killed at birth.
The market for alpaca exploded in the 1980s, when South American alpacas and llamas were marketed worldwide to entrepreneurs who bought into the vision of a ground-floor investment in a luxury fiber market. The craze subsided but breeding continues, and unwanted animals are now routinely put up for auction. Llama sanctuaries and rescue operations have sprung up in the wake of the breeding craze to handle the growing number of abused, neglected animals.
Shahtoosh, used to make "fashionable" shawls, is made from the endangered Tibetan antelope, or chiru. Chiru cannot be domesticated and must be killed in order to obtain their wool. Illegal to sell or possess since 1975, shahtoosh shawls did a brisk business on the black market throughout the 1990s, selling for as much as $15,000 apiece as the Tibetan antelope's population plummeted to fewer than 75,000.
A raid of a 1994 charity event in New York by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service resulted in subpoenas issued to supermodels and socialites who purchased the shawls and the first criminal prosecutions for the sale of the "fabric." In April 2000, British authorities prosecuted a London trading company for illegal possession of 138 shawls-representing 1,000 antelope pelts. Despite the ban on shahtoosh in India, a thriving black market still caters to customers in London, New York, and Los Angeles, who will pay as much as $17,000 for a shawl. As many as 20,000 chiru are killed every year for their wool, a rate that will wipe out the species by 2011 if left unchecked.
Click here to find out about Cashmere and other kinds of wool.
Click here to find out about alternatives to wool and to view our "Shopping Guide to Compassionate Clothing."
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