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PETS AND THEIR PEOPLE: AXED, SPEARED, BEATEN; Scandal of otters slaughtered for UK fashion trade.

Byline: BRITT COLLINS

THOUSANDS of endangered otters are being illegally slaughtered so their fur can be sold as fashionable coats and jackets in Britain.

The terrified creatures are flushed out of their homes by poachers with dogs before being BLUDGEONED to death with axes and spears.

Others are ELECTROCUTED on live wires or trapped in nets then skinned for their soft dense pelts.

These are smuggled into Britain and sold to shoppers who can't tell the difference between real and fake fur.

Award-winning filmmaker Syed Fayaz went undercover for three years to expose the slaughter of otters in his native India.

He said: "These playful creatures were battered to death right in front of my eyes. The poachers also trapped the otters in nets or electrocuted them with live wires laid around ponds.

"It is the West's perception of fur as desirable and glamorous that fuels this trade."

The illegal sale of otter skins is worth millions of pounds. And under European Union laws, UK retailers selling fake or real fur do not have to label goods.

Nicki Brooks, of pressure group Respect for Animals, urged shoppers to be careful.

She said: "People could be wearing otter pelts without realising it because of the lack of labelling laws.

"Some stores place fake fur and real fur items next to each other and the consumer has no idea which is which.

"You could think you are buying a coat with a fake fur trim when you're really modelling a bit of otter. The best advice is to not buy at all."

Otters are protected as endangered. India's rivers and swamps are home to three of the world's 13 breeds. Syed made his film, And Then There Were None after seeing their shocking decline in the Kashmir region. He blames conservationists for focusing too much on larger endangered species such as tigers and rhinos.

Syed said: "Wherever there has been a seizure of wildlife products, if you have nine leopard skins, you have probably 30 or 40 otter skins."

Uttara Mendiratta, of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, said: "We are extremely worried. Otters' wetland habitats are being destroyed because people don't understand their importance to the eco-system."

-FOR more details visit www.wpsi-india.org To support the fight against the fur trade visit www.respectforanimals.org

How hunters trade in deathCULLA hunter hurls his spear at otter as it ventures into swamps to catch fishKILLERA spike-wielding poacher hunts for otters to be sold illegally in the UKSEIZEDFor every nine leopard skins found by police there are 30-40 otter pelts

CAPTION(S):

AT RISK: Otters are vital to wetlands; SICKENING: Skinned otter hides are hung up to dry in India
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Feb 29, 2004
Words:448
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