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fur, hairy covering of an animal, especially the skins of animals that have thick, soft, close-growing hair next to the skin itself and coarser protective hair above it. The underhair is frequently called the underfur or fur proper; the outer hairs are the guard hairs; the whole, when dried, is the pelt. The term fur is extended to dressed sheep and lamb skins when they are prepared for wearing with the hair retained, and usually to curled pelts such as Persian lamb, karakul, astrakhan, and mouton.
Since prehistoric times humans have used furs for clothing. Traditionally, the prized furs have been sable, marten, and fisher (all of the genus Martes), the related mink and ermine (of the genus Mustela), and the chinchilla, from South America. The coats of the ocelot, the wildcat, the common house cat, the marmot, the nutria, the raccoon, the hare, and the rabbit are less expensive because the animals are numerous and easy to trap. Beaver and seal are prized for their durability, but such furs as squirrel and skunk are valued for their delicacy of texture. Fox furs have also been much esteemed, and the rare wild silver fox and Pribilof blue fox are sought after, although silver fox is now bred on fur farms.
The Fur Trade
The hunting of wild furs is still an important occupation in wilderness areas, notably in N Canada, Alaska, Mongolia, and Siberia. The finer wild furs come from northerly regions, where because of the climate the animals produce sleeker and better pelts. In the more populated and temperate regions of the world, however, only small pockets of territory retain enough wild animal life to be good for fur hunting. Because of this condition furs have always been luxury goods and were associated early with royalty and nobility (e.g., sable and ermine).
The fur trade has gone on since antiquity, but it reached its apogee in the organized exploitation of the wilderness of North America and Asia from the 17th to the early 19th cent. The staple fur of the great fur-trading days in North America was the beaver, though the fur seal was and is the object of highly lucrative fur hunts.
Many furs are also now grown extensively by fur farming, which developed into a major industry in the United States and Canada in the 20th cent. The preparation and sale of fur remains a very considerable business. The dressing and dyeing and the matching and cutting of furs to make fine coats and other garments occupy the labors of a great many people concentrated in the few great fur markets of the world.
Threat to Fur-bearing Animals
See A. Samet, Pictorial Encyclopedia of Furs (rev. ed. 1950); P. C. Phillips and J. W. Smurr, The Fur Trade (2 vol., 1961; repr. 1967); E. Coues, The Fur Bearing Animals of North America (1877, repr. 1970); L. R. Hafen, ed., The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West (10 vol., 1965–72); S. Geary, Fur Trapping in North America (rev. ed. 1985).
an animal pelt used to make fur goods. Animals are hunted for their fur by rifle or traps; furs are also obtained from animals raised on fur farms (seeFUR FARMING). The classification of furs as winter or spring furs derives from the season of their procurement. Winter furs are obtained from animals that do not hibernate. Nonhibernating fur bearers include the panther, squirrel, wolf, otter, desman, ermine, rabbit, Siberian weasel, wildcat, marten, red fox, mink, muskrat, arctic fox, lynx, sable, tiger, and polecat. Some animals hibernate or spend the winter in deep burrows, and, despite the high quality of their pelts during this period, their furs must be procured in the spring or summer. Such furs, commonly known as spring furs, include pelts from the badger, chipmunk, mole, rat, fat dormouse, marmot, suslik, tarbagan, and hamster.
Fur quality depends on numerous properties of the pelt. These include color, highlights, luster, length, thickness, softness, elasticity, and felting ability. Other properties include the thickness, density, and toughness of the skin tissue and the heat retention, size, and weight of the pelt. These properties are determined by conditions of habitation (underground, above-ground, or amphibious), individual differences or deviations (individual variation), geography (geographic variation), time of year (seasonal variation), and age (age variation).
Individual variations are reflected primarily in the color, length, thickness, and softness of the hair covering and in the size of the pelts. Such variations are especially noticeable in the sable, arctic fox, red fox, and squirrel. The furs of the Kamchatka and Middle Asian foxes serve as an example of sharply pronounced geographic variation: the pelt of the fox found in the Kamchatka peninsula is large and has a luxurious and silky flaming-red hair, whereas the pelt of the fox found in Central Asian republics of the USSR is relatively small and has short, sparse, somewhat coarse light-gray or pale-yellow hair. Such variation may be caused by climatic conditions and by mimicry. During the transition from winter to summer, changes occur in the fur’s thickness, length, luster, softness and, in some animals, color (for example, the blue hare). The thickness, density, and color of the skin tissue may also change.
Among animals that do not hibernate, molting occurs in the spring and summer (except for the mole). Animals that pass the winter in a state of deep sleep change their hair covering once a year, in the summer. The pelt of an animal is most valuable after molting.
International fur auctions, which account for 70–80 percent of Soviet fur exports, have been held in Leningrad since 1931. In March 1932, 35 representatives from eight countries took part in the auctions, purchasing approximately $1.5 million worth of goods. In January 1974, 249 representatives from 27 countries attended the 66th auction; the value of the furs sold was approximately $25 million. Some auctions draw as many as 300 to 350 representatives from fur companies of 25 to 27 countries. In addition to Soviet goods, the furs of other countries, including North Korea, Mongolia, Poland, and Norway, are also sold at the auction. The auctions are held each year in January, July, and October.
L. P. GAIDAROV
(also For, Forawa), a people living in the western part of the Republic of the Sudan, in the mountainous region of Gebel Marrah, Darfur Province. The Fur number approximately 350,000 (1973, estimate). Their language is Fur, one of the languages of eastern and central Sudan. By religion they are Sunnite Muslims. The Fur constituted the main population of the Darfur sultanate, which existed from the 16th century to 1916. Their chief occupations are irrigated farming (rice, garden crops, cotton) and the breeding of cattle, sheep, and camels.
(also Darfurian, Kondjara), the language of the Fur nationality, which inhabits Darfur Province in the western part of the Democratic Republic of the Sudan. According to a 1973 estimate, there are approximately 350,000 speakers of Fur.
Fur has been tentatively classified as a Nilo-Saharan language. It has a limited consonant system; vowels are divided, by degree of height, into four categories. The language shows a great degree of inflection. Grammatical distinctions are expressed through prefixes and suffixes; the verb, in addition, makes use of internal inflection: und-ɔ (“I was gathering”), b-ut-ɔ (“he was gathering”). The verb has many conjugations and tense forms, and there are many plural forms in the noun, adjective, and numeral. Case is indicated by agglutinative suffixes.
REFERENCESZyhlarz, E. “Das Verbum im Kondjara.” Anthropos, 1926, vol. 21.
Tucker, A. N., and M. A. Bryan. Linguistic Analyses: The Non-Bantu Languages of North-Eastern Africa. London-New York-Cape Town, 1966.
Greenberg, J. H. The Languages of Africa, 2nd ed. The Hague, 1966.