Sensationalized videos claiming to show “animal abuse” are sadly a fact of life these days for animal agriculture, and they’re often promoted (if not actually filmed) by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. One such video, dealing with wool production from Angora rabbits, premiered in 2013 and has gone unchallenged – until now. An Angora farmer in the US contacted us to raise some real concerns about this video, which we think are worth sharing.
Before dissecting the video, let’s start with a backgrounder on Angora wool production.
There are two distinct types of Angora rabbit: those that moult, and those that don’t.
Those that moult have their wool plucked every three or four months, just before moulting begins. Plucking produces the best wool because most of the guard hairs are left behind, but it is time-consuming. Plucking leaves in place the incoming coat, although one breed, the French Angora, can be fed a depilatory which results in the exposure of bare skin. Here’s a video showing how to pluck an Angora properly.
Angoras that don’t moult are sheared. Because the guard hairs are included, the wool is not such high quality, but collecting it is quicker and the yield is higher because wool can be sheared even from sensitive areas of the rabbit’s body. Shearing is therefore more common in commercial operations. The most important commercial breed is the high-yielding and virtually mat-free German Angora. Ninety per cent of Angora wool production today is in China, and almost all Chinese farms raise German Angoras. Here’s a video showing how to shear an Angora properly.
OK, it’s time to watch the main attraction. If you find videos of animal cruelty hard to stomach, just give it a miss and take my word.
0:10 – 1:03: This rabbit is almost certainly a non-moulting German Angora, even though it looks very similar to a moulting French Angora. We can tell it’s a non-moulting breed because its legs are tethered to what is called a stretching board. These are sometimes used, but not always, when rabbits are sheared.
PETA describes the stretching process as follows: “During the cutting process, their front and back legs are tightly tethered – a terrifying experience for any prey animal – and the sharp cutting tools inevitably wound them as they struggle desperately to escape.” In reality, while rabbits being stretched for the first time might be nervous, they soon learn to relax. Stretching keeps the rabbit still and pulls the skin taut, thereby preventing nicks and cuts from the shears – the total opposite of what PETA claims. Here’s an excellent video demonstrating how stretching is done.
Oh, but what’s happening now? Having set the rabbit up for shearing, the man is plucking it right down to its skin! He is also applying far greater force than is ever needed to pluck a moulting breed. This is all wrong for two reasons. First, the rabbit is obviously in pain. Second, as US Angora farmer and advisor on this blog post Dawn Panda says, this could be called “worst business practice”. “We see the wool being yanked off, guard hairs included, in a manner that will ruin the coat for several cycles,” says Dawn. “It will damage the hair follicles and greatly reduce the quality and value of future harvests as new coats will grow in coarser and hairier. No one trying to make money would do that.”
This raises a disturbing question. Are we seeing a non-moulting German Angora being forcibly, and very roughly, plucked just for the camera?
1:04 – 1:17: Here a rabbit is being sheared, so we don’t see any pink skin. It appears calm. At this point in the video, it is not clear whether this footage and the footage of a rabbit being violently plucked were shot on the same farm. We’ll come back to this because, if all the footage is from one farm, the question is raised why one rabbit would be plucked and one sheared.
1:18-1:22: Here a rabbit that has just been sheared is shown suspended in the air by its front legs. This makes no sense, Dawn assures us. There is no part of Angora husbandry in which a rabbit would ever find itself in this situation. It can’t even be claimed the rabbit fell off its stretching board because it’s far too high. Once again, we can’t help but wonder if this bizarre scene was staged for the camera.
1:36-2:02: Here we see a parade of seven rabbits in their cages. Of these, the first three still have hair on their torsos and have been sheared. The next three have been plucked right down to their skin. The last rabbit cannot be seen clearly.
This scene suggests that the violent plucking at the beginning of the video and the shearing that followed took place on the same farm. And since commercial farmers generally don’t have mixed herds of moulting and non-moulting rabbits, we can also suppose that all the rabbits shown are non-moulting German Angoras. The burning question is now unavoidable: Was the violent plucking of a non-moulting rabbit in the opening sequence staged for the camera? It would not be normal practice on a commercial Angora farm, insists Dawn.
“If animal lovers would use their heads, they wouldn’t be taken in by sensationalist publicity stunts,” she says. “However, the addition of poignant music seems to ensure that one’s heart is going to overrule one’s head and voila! Misinformation is spread exponentially, the lie repeated until it’s accepted as fact. There are a number of excellent teaching videos on plucking and/or shearing Angora rabbits on YouTube; the lack of screaming, struggling or any pain is the norm, not the exception. This PETA video certainly does not reflect the reality of Angora farming as I know it!”
If PETA’s Angora rabbit video was indeed staged to misrepresent normal practice, we should not be surprised. This ignominious tactic by animal activists traces its roots all the way back to 1964, when the urban myth about seals being “skinned alive” began with a film that was later proven to have been staged.
While people have a right to believe that humans should not kill or use animals in any way, they lose all credibility when they manipulate images to attack the reputations of those they disagree with.