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Animal traps fall under two categories: restraining or killing. Restraining traps hold the animal until the trapper arrives to kill it. Kill traps are meant to result in immediate death and are used either terrestrially or underwater. The terrestrial versions snap the neck or spine. Underwater traps render the animal unconscious until death. Traps do not discriminate between species and often non-targeted animals are caught. They can capture or kill threatened and endangered species, birds, domestic animals and even humans. Any creature whose feet touch the ground is vulnerable to a trap.
Despite numerous modifications, most traps used today remain notoriously indiscriminate and cause serious injury and suffering to trapped animals, including broken legs, dislocated shoulders, lacerations, torn muscles, cuts to mouths and gums, broken teeth, fractures, amputation of digits, and even death. An animal trapped on land may suffer from psychological stress and or pain, starvation, dehydration or predation. If captured in aquatic traps, animals adapted to swimming and diving for long periods (such as beavers and river otters) can slowly suffer from hypoxia even if they struggle before drowning.
The "padded" leghold trap, touted as the humane alternative to the steel-jaw version, causes significant injuries to a number of species. And although trapping proponents claim the "padded" leghold traps are humane, trap-use surveys indicate that less than 3 percent of U.S. trappers even own one.
Conibear traps intended to kill animals instantly by snapping the spinal column at the base of the neck have frequent mis-strikes and injured animals frequently escape from them. Studies show that Conibear traps generally kill less than 15 percent of trapped animals instantly and more than 40 percent usually have slow, painful deaths as unintended body parts such as abdomens, heads or limbs are squeezed between the trap bars. Field studies of the Conibear 120 Magnum (used to trap small animals such as minks and pine martens) have shown that non-targeted species constitute more than 73 percent of all captures.
Studies and other information show that two to 10 non-targeted animals are trapped for every targeted animal captured. Yet more studies show that non-targeted animals constitute between 56 percent and 76 percent of leghold trap captures. In January 2012, the first Canada lynx to be documented in Idaho in more than 15 years was inadvertently caught in a leghold trap set in the Salmon-Challis National Forest.
Trappers are concerned with undamaged pelts, but not quick and/or humane deaths. A 2011 undercover investigation by Born Free USA documented common killing practices used by trappers in the United States that commonly included strangling, drowning and chest stomping.