Multi Billion Euro Ugg Boot Industry Pushing Wild Ugg To Brink Of Extinction
Yesterday’s seizure by Cork Gardaí of €1.5 million worth of fake Ugg Boots draws into sharp focus our continued and insatiable desire for the comfortable fleece-lined footwear.
The slipper-like boot was popularized by American celebrity wearers at the end of the 1990s – and is now a €1 billion worldwide industry – with a single ‘genuine’ pair retailing at anywhere from €60 to €100.
What is largely ignored, however, is the devastating impact this industry is now having on the dwindling population of wild Ugg.
The Ugg is a small, shaggy-haired species of mountain goat found mostly in the highlands of New Zealand’s North Island. Gentle and curious by nature, the Ugg was easy prey for the white settlers who discovered the creature in the 1920s.
Venerated and protected by generations of indigenous natives (Ugg means ‘Fluffy Ghost’ in Maori) – the Ugg herds had no fear of the white settlers who soon learned that the animal’s cotton-wool skin could be easily fashioned into ‘casual’ boots.
As Ugg boots became part of Australian surf culture in the 1960s and 70s, the price for Ugg fleece increased exponentially – with hundred of poachers descending on the North Island each summer to ‘slug an Ugg.’
By the 1990s, the Wellington government was forced to enforce strict measures to control the dwindling Ugg population and built vast Ugg farms upon which 90% of all Uggs now live.
The life of the captive Ugg is short and unusually cruel. For reasons not yet fully understood, intense emotional distress causes rapid and lustrous fleece growth. As such, most young Uggs are torn from their mothers aged three months and force-fed razor sharp ‘noodle-glass’ until their fleece adopts that familiar ‘comfy and cosy’ feeling modern women so selfishly desire.
Wild Ugg, however, possesses a rough, knotted fleece – producing a more rugged and long-lasting slipper boot which has now become a fashion sensation in China.
With prices for wild Ugg fleece skyrocketing in recent months, China has this week persuaded the New Zealand government (for an undisclosed fee) to allow ‘wholesale kill-fleecing’ of wild Ugg for the exclusive needs of the Chinese market.
As wild Ugg now number in the low thousands, it seems we might well be only a matter of months away from the total disappearance of this wise and gracious creature.
“There’s an old tale among us Maori,” said High Chief Manaia Terongo, by way of a phone conversation this morning. “When the great big mountains be empty of Ugg – so too will the great big world be empty of men.”
The mountains of New Zealand will soon be empty of wild Ugg. What then for the fate of wild man?