(Reuters) - Battered by the economic downturn and years of animal rights activism in their own backyard, American mink farmers are now in a different sort of quandary: scrambling to keep up with China's demand for all things fur.
Driven by a hunger for high-end clothing and luxury home goods among China's burgeoning middle class, U.S. exports of mink pelts to China jumped to a record $215.5 million last year - more than double both the value and volume shipped in 2009.
That Chinese consumers are clamoring for fuzzy-trimmed backpacks, ermine-edged coats and mink-covered office supplies comes as a welcome respite for the U.S. mustelidae world.
The industry's fortunes had chilled in recent years, with farms shuttering and prices slumping amid the past two recessions and mounting criticism of the fur trade by U.S. and European animal rights groups.
Now, prices of farmed mink pelts are soaring to all-time highs. South Korea and Russia, too, have contributed to a surge in demand that led to shipments of 11.8 million pelts worth $479 million worldwide by U.S. farmers, trappers and auction houses last year. That was nearly triple the level in 2009.
Weather has kept the demand piling on in recent months. Both Russia and China experienced unusually cold winters late last year.
For now, at least, Chinese buyers and manufacturers are flocking to fur auction houses in Seattle and Canada by the droves. At a recent sale held at North American Fur Auctions in Toronto, the demand drove black male mink pelts to an average price of more than $141 each.more