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Exposing the Myths: The Truth about Trapping

Each year, more than 4 million animals are trapped and killed for their fur in the United States. Millions more are trapped and killed in the name of “livestock” and “game” protection and for “nuisance” animal control. Whatever the purpose, the consequences for the trapped animals are the same — pain, suffering, and death. Proponents argue that traps are humane and selective, and that trapping is tightly regulated, an important source of income for many people, and necessary for managing wildlife. These claims, however, are far from the truth.

Myth: Trapping is humane and selective.

Despite what trappers would have you believe, animals frequently sustain severe injuries from being trapped. When not killed outright by the trap, animals can suffer physiological trauma, dehydration, exposure to severe weather, and predation by other animals until the trapper returns. When the trapper returns he usually clubs, suffocates or strangles the animal to death. Fur trappers rarely shoot trapped animals because bullet holes and blood reduce a pelt's value.

Traps set in or near water are designed to drown aquatic mammals, which can take up to 20 minutes for some species.1 The American Veterinary Medical Association deems drowning to be inhumane and a 1999 study concluded “drowning cannot be considered euthanasia.”2

Most traps are notoriously indiscriminate, capturing almost any animal that triggers them. Sometimes called “trash” animals by trappers, non-target species that have been found in traps include threatened and endangered species, raptors, domestic dogs and cats, and even humans. These animals can sustain the same injuries as target species. Even if released, they may perish later from internal injuries or reduced ability to hunt or forage for food.

There are three general types of traps used today: restraining body-gripping traps; kill traps; and live traps. Restraining and kill traps are most often used for commercial and recreational fur trapping as they are cheap, portable, and easy to set. Live traps are more often used by private “nuisance” animal control trappers for trapping raccoons, cats, skunks, etc.

The most commonly used trap in the U.S. is the steel-jaw leghold trap, a restraining trap with spring-loaded steel jaws that clamp on an animal's foot or leg when triggered. Leghold traps can cause severe swelling, lacerations, joint dislocations, fractures, damage to teeth and gums, self-mutilation, limb amputation, and even death.3 The steel-jaw leghold trap has been declared inhumane by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Animal Hospital Association, and the National Animal Control Association, and has been banned or severely restricted by more than 80 countries and 8 U.S. states.

Dick Randall, a former federal trapper, told Congress, “My trapping records show that for each target animal I trapped, about two unwanted individuals were caught. Because of trap injuries, these nontarget animals had to be destroyed.”4 Nontarget animals comprised 76% of all animals captured in leghold traps in a 1981 study.5 Although trappers may use pan tension devices, which may exclude smaller “nontarget” species by increasing the force needed to trigger a trap, species similar in weight or larger than the target species are still captured.6,7

In response to criticism over the steel-jaw leghold trap, trap manufacturers designed the padded leghold trap, which has thin strips of rubber attached to the trap's jaws. Padded traps can reduce limb injuries in some species. However, they can still cause serious and debilitating injuries. For example, a 1995 study by the USDA's Animal Damage Control program (now called “Wildlife Services”) found 97% of coyotes caught in padded traps had severe swelling of their trapped limb, 39% had lacerations, and several had simple or compound fractures.8 Despite such findings, and even though as of 1992 less than 2% of traps owned by U.S. trappers were padded leghold traps,9 trapping proponents claim that padded jaw traps have made trapping “humane.”

Other modified leghold traps include the offset jaw and laminated jaw traps, though these devices have also been found to cause serious injuries.

Snares are primitive wire nooses that, depending on how they are set, are designed to tighten around an animal's leg (restraining trap) or neck (kill trap). Some researchers suggests that certain leg snares may be a more humane alternative to jaw-type leghold traps, but research has been limited.

While small victims of neck snares may become unconscious in five to ten minutes from strangulation, larger animals may suffer for days. In one study, researchers recommended neck snares not be used in areas with livestock or deer after snares set for coyotes killed 50% of deer accidentally captured.10 The Federal Provincial Committee on Humane Trapping concluded after years of study that these snares “do not have the potential to consistently produce a quick death.”11

Conibear traps are kill traps consisting of two metal frames hinged at the center point and powered by two torsion springs to create a scissorlike action. Conibear traps are supposed to kill animals instantly by snapping the spinal column at the base of the neck. However, traditional Conibear traps kill less than 15% of trapped animals quickly, and more than 40% die slow, painful deaths as their abdomens, heads, or other body parts are crushed.12 Some newer modifications have improved the Conibear's killing ability,3 but for only a few species, and mostly in controlled lab settings. Conibear traps are also notoriously indiscriminate and have been shown to capture 2 nontarget animals per target animal.13

Myth: Trapping is tightly regulated.

Trapping regulations vary widely from state to state and are, in general, poorly enforced. Many states have few restrictions on the types of traps that can be used or the number of animals that can be trapped. Only a handful of states require or offer trapper education courses so most trappers learn “in the field.” Four states do not require trappers to check their traps at all, and twenty states allow animals to suffer in traps for 2 to 4 days. Only Georgia regulates how a trapped animal must be killed.

Very few states monitor the number of target animals trapped each year, and most do not require trappers to report nontarget captures at all. Some state wildlife agencies rely on voluntary or mandatory “fur dealer/buyer reports” to estimate annual trapping totals. Others obtain their data through random telephone or mail surveys, then use these partial reports to estimate the total numbers of animals trapped each year. Additionally, millions of animals are trapped by private “nuisance wildlife control operators” — or NWCOs — in this growing and largely unregulated industry.14

Myth: Only abundant species are trapped.

Historically, unregulated trapping almost wiped out beaver, sea otter, lynx, wolverine, and other species in many areas of the U.S. Today, some state wildlife management agencies continue to allow the trapping of highly sensitive species, including wolverine, fisher, marten, kit fox, and lynx. For example, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) considered listing the Canada lynx under the Endangered Species Act, Montana continued to allow lynx to be commercially trapped — even when a 1999 U.S. Forest Service report concluded, “Lynx appear to be extremely susceptible to trapping, and where trapping is permitted it can be (and has been) a significant source of mortality.”15 Unfortunately, because population modeling and furbearer data collection are so poor in many states, we do not know the impact trapping has on sensitive species — often until it is too late.

Myth: Trapping is a necessary wildlife management tool.

Trappers and wildlife managers claim that trapping prevents species from overpopulating and destroying their habitat by removing “surplus” animals from the wild. This simplistic argument, however, belies the dynamics of wildlife populations. First, the term “surplus” as used by trappers is an ecological fallacy — every animal, alive or dead, plays an important role in its ecosystem as either predator or prey. Second, available habitat and food resources generally limit the size of wildlife populations. When a wildlife population approaches the limit that the habitat can sustain — the “carrying capacity” — reproduction and survival decrease because less food is available to each individual, and the population begins to decline. In this way, nature has been regulating itself for millennia without our help.

Trapping generally removes healthy individuals from the population rather than the sick, aged, infirm, or very young animals most often subjected to natural selection. It would be “blind luck” if a trapper were to trap an animal that would have otherwise died of starvation or any other natural cause, so trapping actually works against nature's selection process.

In truth, trappers are mainly interested in manipulating wildlife populations for their own benefit. State wildlife agencies actively manage populations of furbearers to ensure that there are enough animals for trappers to kill, not to prevent biological overpopulation.

Myth: Trapping controls the spread of disease.

Trappers and wildlife managers play on the public's fear of rabies and other diseases by arguing that trapping is necessary to control the spread of disease. However, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Academy of Sciences, and the World Health Organization, as well as many other scientific, public health, and veterinary organizations, disagree. The National Academy of Sciences subcommittee on rabies concluded that, “Persistent trapping or poisoning campaigns as a means to rabies control should be abolished. There is no evidence that these costly and politically attractive programs reduce either wildlife reservoirs or rabies incidence. The money can be better spent on research, vaccination, compensation to stockmen for losses, education and warning systems.”16

Rather, trapping can actually increase the spread of disease.17 By removing mature animals who have acquired immunity to disease, trappers make room for newcomers who may not be immune. In addition, animals infected with rabies do not eat during the latter stages of the disease, and therefore do not respond to baited traps. Hence, traps set in an area infected with rabies will more than likely capture healthy animals rather than infected animals, thereby increasing the likelihood that the disease will spread.

Myth: Fur trapping provides significant income for many Americans.

Trapping and fur industry proponents claim trapping provides a viable income for many Americans. However, surveys show that most trappers trap for “sport” and a little extra income. In response to a 1997 API survey, state wildlife agencies indicated that income from trapping was either extremely low or non-existent. A 1992 Missouri Department of Conservation study reported that “approximately 30% of all trappers in 1991 reported no household income from trapping ... Most trappers reported earning small incomes from trapping. This suggests that motives other than monetary gain are also important to trappers. The average cost of trapping per day was $30.67.” Today fur trapping is little more than a hobby.

The trapping of wildlife for profit is an anachronism in today's society. Its blatant cruelty can no longer be masked under the guise of economics or wildlife management. However, the trapping/fur lobby is powerful and well-funded, and countering its entrenched political power requires dedicated, passionate citizens who recognize that wildlife has intrinsic worth above and beyond its economic value. We encourage you to get involved.


Fur & Trapping Facts

Total Trapping Licenses sold in the U.S. in 1997-98: 130,400

Top Five Species Trapped in the U.S. (1997-98) *

Raccoon ... ~2,097,000
Muskrat ... ~1,993,000
Nutria ... ~398,000
Beaver ... ~295,000
Opossum ... ~234,000

Select List of Other Species Trapped in the U.S. (1997-98) *

Mink ... ~164,000
Coyote ... ~159,000
Red Fox ... ~139,000
Otter ... ~25,500
Gray Wolf ... ~1,280

Top 5 Trapping States -- Total Animals Trapped (1997-98) *

Wisconsin ... ~695,000
Pennsylvania ... ~581,000
North Dakota ... ~515,000
Louisiana ... ~468,000
Minnesota ... ~430,000

*Figures may include animals killed by means other than trapping due to poor record keeping by agencies.

Number of animals used to make an average length fur coat:
Badger 20 | Mink (Ranch) 60
Beaver 15 | Otter 14
Bobcat 15 | Rabbit 30
Chinchilla 100 | Raccoon 27
Coyote 16 | Red Fox 18
Ermine 125 | Sable 40
Lynx 11 | Silver Fox 11

State Leghold Trapping Bans

  • FL (1973) — Steel traps banned except by permit for animal damage control.
  • RI (1977) — Steel-jawed leghold traps banned except by permit for animal damage control.
  • NJ (1984) — Use, sale, manufacture, possession, import, and transport of steel-jaw leghold traps banned.
  • AZ (1994) — Leghold traps, instant kill body-gripping traps, and snares banned on public lands except for human health and safety, rodent control, wildlife research and relocation.
  • CO (1996) — Leghold traps, instant kill body-gripping traps, and snares banned except for animal damage control, human health and safety, rodent control, wildlife research and relocation.
  • MA (1996) — Steel-jaw leghold traps, padded leghold traps, Conibear traps, and snares banned except for human health and safety; Conibears only allowed by permit for damage control.
  • CA (1998) — Use of body-gripping traps for recreation or commerce, and commerce in raw fur from animals trapped with body-gripping traps, banned; steel-jaw leghold trap banned for all purposes except padded leghold trap for human health and safety.
  • WA (2000) — Use of body-gripping traps for recreation or commerce, and commerce in raw fur from mammals trapped with body-gripping traps, banned; use of body-gripping traps banned except Conibear trap in water, padded leghold trap, and foot snare allowed by permit for human health and safety, endangered species protection, wildlife research, or for unrelieved damage control.

What You Can Do

  • Don't buy or wear fur, fur-trimmed items, or anything made with fur, such as cat toys.
  • Help educate people about the cruelties behind fur by distributing Born Free USA united with API's fur information card (contact Born Free USA united with API).
  • Contact businesses that sell fur and tell them you will cease doing business with them until they stop selling fur products.
  • If you own property, clearly post signs prohibiting trapping on your land. Prosecute violators.
  • Encourage your local community to utilize nonlethal methods of dealing with “nuisance” wildlife. (Look for our Humane Ways to Live with Wildlife brochures.)
  • Support policy efforts that restrict or prohibit trapping.
  • Share this fact sheet with a friend.

Notes:

  1. F. F. Gilbert and N. Gofton. “Terminal Dives in Mink, Muskrat and Beaver.” Physiology & Behavior (1982) 28: 835-840.
  2. Ludders, et al. “Drowning is not euthanasia.” Wildlife Society Bulletin (1999) 27: 666-670.
  3. see discussion in G. Proulx. “Review of current mammal trap technology in North America.” Pp. 1-46 in G. Proulx, editor. Mammal trapping. Sherwood Park: Alpha Wildlife Research & Management Ltd., 1999.
  4. D. Randall. Hearings before the Ninety-Fourth Congress to Discourage the Use of Painful Devices in the Trapping of Animals and Birds. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1975.
  5. M. Novak. “The foot-snare and the leg-hold traps: a comparison.” Proceeding of the Worldwide Furbearer Conference (1981) 3: 1671-1685.
  6. F. J. Turkowski, et al. “Selectivity and Effectiveness of Pan Tension Devices for Coyote Foothold Traps.” Journal of Wildlife Management (1984) 48: 700-708.
  7. R. L. Phillips and K. S. Gruver. “Performance of the Paws-I-Trip™ pan tension device on 3 types of traps.” Wildlife Society Bulletin (1996) 24: 119-122.
  8. R. L. Phillips, et al. “Leg Injuries to Coyotes in Three Types of Foothold Traps.” Wildlife Society Bulletin (1990) 18: 166-175.
  9. International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Fur Resources Technical Committee. Ownership and use of traps by trappers in the United States in 1992. Washington: Fur Resources Technical Committee of the International Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the Gallup Organization, 1993.
  10. R. L. Phillips. “Evaluation of 3 types of snares for capturing coyotes.” Wildlife Society Bulletin (1996) 24: 107-110.
  11. The Federal Provincial Committee on Humane Trapping. Findings and Recommendations. Canada: Federal Provincial Wildlife Conference, 1981.
  12. H. C. Lunn. The Conibear Trap — Recommendations for its Improvement. Humane Trap Development Committee of Canada, Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, 1973.
  13. M. Novak. “Traps and trap research.” Pp. 941-969 in M. Novak, J. A. Baker, M. E. Obbard, and B. Malloch, editors. Wild furbearer management and conservation in North America. North Bay: Ontario Trappers Association, 1987.
  14. T. G. Barnes. “State Agency Oversight of the Nuisance Wildlife Control Industry.” Wildlife Society Bulletin (1997) 25: 185-188.
  15. L. F. Ruggiero et al. “The scientific basis for lynx conservation: qualified insights.” in L. F. Ruggiero, et al., tech. eds. The scientific basis for lynx conservation in the contiguous United States. Gen. Tech. Rpt. RMRS-GTR-30. Ogden: U.S. Dept. Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, 1999.
  16. National Research Council, Subcommittee on Rabies. Control of Rabies. Washington: National Academy of Sciences, 1973.
  17. “Controlling Wildlife Rabies through Population Reduction: An Ineffective Method.” The Rabies Monitor, Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1996.

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