Killing of endangered Species for Perfume Industries

Maneka Gandhi

Maneka GandhiIIf you are serious about saving the world , remember that more than half of it is being destroyed for products we do not need. Let me show you some killers used by the perfume industry.

Ambergris, a much prized ingredient from whale intestines, is used as a fixative in perfumes because it is the slowest of all perfume materials to evaporate.  It is actually bile secreted by sperm whales to help them digest food. A substance that looks like dung, perfume companies claim that it is vomited out and floats on water until it is either pulled in by fishermen or washed up on land. That is completely untrue. No one running a perfume industry that needs tones of the stuff is going to wait till bits of whale vomit are found by lucky beachcombers. In actual fact it is obtained by killing sperm whales – something forbidden by the entire world since 1977 but still done by Norway and Japan. While the French may condemn whaling by these countries, France has the only facility in the world that processes ambergris and they buy it from are these two countries. 4 tones per year is the demand,. Ambergris is banned for trading in America and Australia but European perfume makers escape by pretending that either the ambergris is very old ( when I banned ivory trading in India , many ivory merchants claimed they were selling the tusks of mammoths who had died 2 million years ago and whose tusks , strangely enough, had been dug up in Siberia.) or it has been found on the beach of faraway islands like Vanuatu or Falkland islands. In fact 96% of traded ambergris came from sperm whales and only 4% from shore wash-ups.

There are French companies that trade in ambergris  all over the world even though trading in this animal product is strictly forbidden . It is listed in  Appendix 1 of CITES which specifically excludes trade for commercial purposes in parts or products derived from the wild for. So even if someone found ambergris on the beach they would be unable to legally sell it. The sperm whale was declared an endangered species in 1970. In the US the passing of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 consolidated protection for the Sperm whale and its products. The Act states that it is unlawful to possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship by any means whatsoever any parts or products of an endangered species within the United States. This means that perfume companies in the United States are not allowed to buy or sell it or perfumes containing it. Australia has also banned it. Since 1981, importation of sperm oil and other sperm whale products has been banned by the European Union.

 However companies that sell “natural perfumes” and “essential oils” even in the US however continue to use ambergris and internet websites sell it openly. They ignore the argument that the demand for this commodity means that unscrupulous hunting countries  kill more whales. It is estimated that there are now only 360,000 sperm whales remaining, compared with a Greenpeace estimate of 1,500,000 in 1978. 

Castor or castoreum is a creamy substance with a strong odour found in two sacs between the anus and external genitals of the beaver, a playful creature found in streams in Europe and North America. These “pods” are used as a fixative in perfume. The odour is used by male and female beavers to mark their territories but has become a single main reason for their genocide. In fact the word castrate comes from the Greek word of beaver, Kastor
There are only two species of beaver left , both being hunted extensively for these anal sacs. They are dried, ground and put into alcohol to obtain the Castoreum perfume. Even though they are illegal they are advertised openly on the net. 

Hyraceum comes from the Hyrax, an extraordinary animal who resembles an over-grown guinea-pig and is the closest living relative to the elephant. A hyrax's brain is like an elephant's, while its stomach is like a horse's. The skeleton, is akin to a rhinoceros's. The hind feet are like a tapir's. The upper incisors from rodents' teeth, upper cheek teeth from rhino's and the lower cheek teeth like a hippo's. They even have two teeth in their upper jaw that resemble elephant tusks. .

Hyraceum is formed from the urine of a Hyrax . The urine is not fluid , more like  a jelly like substance. Hyraceum is the crystalised  form of Hyrax urine and the animals are kept in cages till they die. The tincture is obtained by infusing the powdered raw material into alcohol for a few weeks.

The Musk Deer is another severely endangered  victim of the perfume trade. At the rate it is being poached , that should be about 5 years from now.It is a small deer without antlers , large rounded ears and protruding canine teeth. Male deer have a scent sac which becomes active when they are about two years old. This sac secretes a substance known as musk which the stag uses it to mark his territory and to attract females. Each musk pod or kasturi weighs about 15 gm .  This tiny pod is what the perfume trade wants.

About 4,000 adult male deer are killed annually. The French  perfume industry alone used 15 % of the world’s  musk .All musk deer species have been protected by the International CITES pact since 1979. Inspite of that all Asian wild populations are down by 80% in the last 10 years. In India there were 30,000 in 1986 , there are less than 3000 today.

Three to five musk deer are trapped and killed for every male deer. Since an average of 40 male deer with sufficiently large glands are necessary to produce each kilogram of musk, this means the killing of about 160 deer. Poachers use steel wire snares to trap musk deer. These kill musk deer of all gender and age as well as other species.  They cut open the live animal, take the sac and leave it to die in agony. Hundreds of snares lie scattered over the Himalayas .As the population dwindles, the poaching increases, Since almost all the older males have been killed ,  the size of the pods is getting smaller and smaller as  younger males are being killed. Which means more males have to be killed for the same weight.

Cites also bans  i.e. the scraping the glands of civet cats to produce civet etc. But perfume companies couldn’t care less. Another fixative used is the excretion of the civet or pole cat  found in Africa and Southeast Asia, a relation of the mongoose with a spotted body and a ringed tail. The excretion comes from the perineal glands, next to the civet's anus  . It is taken by either killing the animal and removing the glands, or by scraping the secretions from the glands of a live animal. The latter is the preferred method today. According to the World Society for the Protection of Animals which has investigated civet harvesting for perfume in Ethiopia, the animals are kept in tiny cages for years. Every few days the keepers scrape the civet out of the anal sacs using a small horn spoon or spatula, a painful procedure . The belief that an angry animal secretes more persists and civets are tied by their legs to the bars of the cage and teased and irritated in the hope of increasing the yield.. Chanel ( specially Chanel No 5), Cartier, and Lancome have all admitted to using civet in their products.

The muskrat is an aquatic rodent which resembles a large house rat with its tail flattened on either side and webbed hind feet. It lives in reed huts built cleverly  in marshy shallows with underwater entrance tunnels. It is killed and its anal glands are used in making perfume.
Even when these species are not used , an average perfume uses pig and other animal fat. In Grasse, the largest manufacturing centre of perfume in France , the flowers are spread on glass sheets coated with animal grease. The flowers are changed until the grease has absorbed their fragrance.   The grease and fats are dissolved in alcohol to obtain the essential oils. It is the ratio of alcohol to oil that determines perfume, eau de toilette, and cologne.
Synthetic oils are freely available eliminating the need to extract oils from animals. But the perfume industry is not going to change unless you force them to do so.  I have never used perfume. Do you need to ?

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