Fur, Feather, and Bone: A Matter of Ethics

I have been working with animal spirits in recent years for a number of spiritual purposes. I usually reach out to form connections with the animal realm through my relationships with Barn Owl, Crow, and Coyote, the three animals with whom I share my road. I also work with animal spirits because their unique experiences offer many lessons and great wisdom. In exchange, I make offerings, attempt to support the health and wellness of my animal kin on Earth, and I try to be as ethical as possible in my dealings with the animal spirits and their Earthly counterparts. With added length in the road and related twists and turns, I have considered purchasing fur, feathers, claws, teeth and other physical elements to improve my connections to each animal spirit (with the exception of Barn Owl because he is a protected species; it is illegal to own ANY part of a Barn Owl!). My thought was that having such an item could help me link more strongly to the animal energies and learn from them more readily. However, there are a host of ethical issues attached to owning the elements of an animal, the most obvious being consideration of how the animal died and the ecological impact of that death, if it was instigated by human intervention.

Coyotes are everywhere these days so it is not at all difficult to obtain fur and bones of exceptional quality in significant quantities. However, Coyote elements are so easy to find because Coyotes are regularly trapped and killed to “protect” farm animals such as sheep, goats, chickens, and anything else Coyotes might run away with. They also may be euthanized when they stray too close to human spaces. I am reminded of the Coyote who strolled into a Quiznos in downtown Chicago. Although I understand the human desire to protect humanity’s spaces, I do not condone the free killing of Coyotes. Many people will kill them just because its quick and relatively easy, without seriously considering (and employing) non-lethal deterrents (such as wolf urine, flash/sound equipment, etc.). Since it is via these problematic methods that Coyote elements are often obtained I do not feel comfortable with purchasing them from most sources. Ideally, I would know exactly how the Coyote elements were obtained, where, and by whom, but most sites selling fur, bones, and the like do not specify. Sometimes the sites note “humane methods” of procurement but they do not always articulate exactly what they mean by that in any detail. I can pretty much guarantee that the industry standard for humane procurement falls short of my and probably many other eco-friendly standards.

Crows are also considered pest animals, like the Coyote. They take the wrap for pillaging grain fields, despite the fact that they also eat the insects that overrun those fields. Again, crow feathers, talons, and other elements for sale tend to be lacking in information on how, where, and by whom they were procured. Barn Owls do not have the problem of being exploited in this way because they are a protected species so it is profoundly illegal to own any part of a Barn Owl (notice how I repeated this; just trying to raise awareness), even if you “harvested” it yourself from a dead bird you found on the road. This is the case because there is no way to reliably document and trace that sort of procurement; in order to better protect the species, independent procurement has to be discouraged as well.

Given the delicate situation in which Barn Owl finds itself, I would not want to own authentic Barn Owl elements. However, I do find myself occasionally coveting someone else’s nice Coyote fur or fantastic set of Crow feathers because having access to those elements could definitely allow for a stronger energetic connection, at least in theory. If I had all of the requisite information (the hows, wheres, and whoms) for Coyote and Crow elements and I deemed it fully ethical, I think I would make the purchase. But, I think it is a little stickier when folks offer you various elements as a gift. In my case, a friend of mine offered me some Coyote fur that he had obtained a year or two ago via online purchase. He made this offer to me before I was really deeply involved in animal spirit work, so I accepted the gift, but the more I think on it, the more I think I should have said no. But of course, being young in my animal wisdom, I took the fur when he offered. Because I did not and still do not have the information that I need to ensure an ethical decision, my instinct is to bury the fur in a small ritual and leave it be .

When I approached Coyote regarding this matter, he seemed indifferent; I could take the fur or leave it. Part of me wants to take Coyote as the authority because ultimately it is his body and he can do what he likes with its elements, but I still can’t get over the feeling that I am tacitly approving the willy-nilly slaughter of Coyotes if I were to keep the fur, add it to my animal altar, and work with it. Coyote’s attitude would imply that its really not that deep but I can’t really shake the feeling. As for Crow and Barn Owl, I have not approached Crow with my question and Barn Owl’s case is moot.

Do you work with Coyote? Crow? What have they told you they would prefer with regard to their elements? What would you do? Inquiring minds…

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3 thoughts on “Fur, Feather, and Bone: A Matter of Ethics

  1. FYI, it is also illegal to own crow parts in the US. They are covered (as are almost all birds, other than game birds) by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 – even though they are not only unendangered but often a pest species. You can find a really thorough resource on the legality of animal parts here: http://www.thegreenwolf.com/partslaws.html.

    • I gave the laws a once over when I began working with Barn Owl but did not follow-up when I began working with Crow. I assumed that because they are often viewed as a pest species, as you mentioned, and because there are YouTube videos of people shooting them that they must not be protected. I was obviously wrong. Thanks for the info and the very useful link!

  2. I can understand how you feel about this – I have been working with wolf for a number of years.Since I never had any money to buy anything “real” ,I simply had to make due with statues – which was fine. I always end up painting them black (The 2 I have were a gft from my ex about 15 years ago – plus one other).
    It was last year that Wolfie said he wanted something more, I spent a lot of time online looking. I finaly found a gentleman in alaska. I talked to him by email for about 3 months straight. I learned where the fur was from, how it was killed…details that other places were not able to give me.
    I am happy with the decision I made and Wolfie is very happy as well – or at least for now.
    Crow has just appeared about 1 month ago – he wanted a nest, so I built one. I am currently looking for a skull – perhaps a cast of one. What I don’t understand is that if Crow gives a gift who am I to deny it? I mean If I find a feather then WTF? But thats just me 🙂

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