Animal Rights Activists Gloss Over Trapping Facts

Animal Rights Activists Gloss Over Trapping Facts

By: Staff  Date: 01/14/2012 Category: | Wildlife Journal |


We at Wildlife Damage Control have no problem with developing traps and techniques that reduce animal pain and injury. However, we do have great concerns over the arbitrary claims of animal rights activists that foothold traps are cruel and box traps (mistakenly known as "live traps") are good. We would like to share with the readers a few facts that the activists consistently neglect to tell the public.



The high cost of trap bans


Animal rights activists don't tell you that banning so-called "cruel traps" like Conibears and footholds can cause animals to suffer longer than being caught in the banned traps. Think of the animal damage controller as a carpenter. He can still build your home without a hammer and chisel, but it will certainly take longer and cost more.

You hire an animal damage controller for his expertise. Banning traps prohibits him from using the best trap for your situation. This results in higher costs both in having the animal removed and the extra time needed to capture the animal using less effective methods. It may also result in greater costs in property damage. Some states like Massachusetts are finding that trap bans have forced cities and towns to pay for animal damage control where they didn't have to pay before. In Massachusetts, highway departments paid about $121,000 to handle 1668 beaver problems. With no beaver harvest, that cost is now estimated to climb to $1,208,0001 to handle beaver problems. These estimates are not with inflation-adjusted dollars and don't include the costs to private citizens.



Health and safety


When effective animal damage control tools have been banned, delays in removing the animals can result in more damage. Animal rights activists argue that box-trapping gray squirrels is very effective. They are correct. However, there are situations where squirrels won't enter box traps in a timely manner. This delay can allow a squirrel to continue or begin to chew on electrical wires which can cause a fire in your home. However, a Conibear trap set directly over the entrances to the den can result in very quick capture of the offending animals.

Do you think the AR activist organizations will pay for any extra damages caused by the delay in removing problem wildlife? Let's take the example of beaver damage. The Massachusetts town of Chelmsford listened to the advice of the Friends of Animals. They said they could solve the conflict between the beavers and the town without killing the beavers. They failed, and the town now has to chlorinate its drinking water because two of the town wells were flooded by the beavers' damming activity. The Massachusetts Trappers Association solved the conflict by removing about 60 beaver from the town.



Foot-hold traps

Leg-hold traps, more properly known as foothold traps (because you don't want to catch an animal on the leg you want to capture them on the pad of the foot) is the favorite whipping boy of the animal rights movement. They love to drag out photos of animals with leg amputations allegedly due to footholds or some sad fox caught in a foothold. They claim that animals suffer endless hours of torture. What they conveniently like to leave out of their brochures is the following information:


  1. Most states require that all traps be checked every calendar day. Often there is an exception for under-ice sets which would be checked every two calendar days.
  2. Most states now require new trappers to undergo trapping education so they know how to properly use the equipment.
  3. Footholds is a generic name that refers to a variety of foothold traps. Footholds can have padded jaws (which the Massachusetts Supreme Court deemed to be a different trap than the steel-jawed foothold in a 1995 ruling), offset jaws and steel jaws. Padded jaw footholds have been used to capture endangered species for relocation purposes. Question, why would biologists use a cruel trap to capture an endangered animal in the attempt to save it? One such example is the otter restoration project. According to Dave Hamilton (Trapper Predator Caller February 1998 page 34), "...almost every one (otter) of the more than 2700 otters used in these restoration programs were captured in the wild by trappers using foothold traps. Probably not a surprise to you. Number 11 longsprings and number one coilsprings (sometimes padded) are the traps of choice."
  4. Interestingly, the activists failed to tell the public that otter restoration projects relied on foothold traps.
  5. Trappers have learned to modify these traps so that animal injury is greatly reduced. Trappers don't want animals to get out of their traps; the less pain an animal feels the less likely it will fight the trap and possibly get loose.
  6. Footholds are often used in conjunction with drowning systems so that the animal won't be alive in the trap very long. Muskrats are frequently trapped using footholds in drowning sets. The caught animal often jumps into the water in an attempt to escape and quickly drowns.
  7. If trapped animals chewed off their feet as often as animal rights literature would lead you to believe, then one would have to conclude that trappers simply collect feet.


Trappers don't deny that footholds cause pain. In fact all traps cause pain, even box traps. The issue is whether the pain is acceptable under the circumstances. The foothold trap has been changed over the years so that the animals will suffer less. However, people who oppose the utilization of wildlife at all claim that footholds as used today are still unacceptably cruel.


Foot-hold traps are selective

In myopic terms, every trap is ultimately non-selective. That is, every trap can potentially capture a non-target animal, just as every hunter can potentially shoot an unwanted target. However, the problem isn't as bad as activists would like you to believe. They conveniently forget that the trapper is half of the trapping equation. Activists consistently ignore how the experience of the trapper impacts the effectiveness and target specificity of various traps.

Trappers don't want to catch non-target animals because it wastes their time. This is especially true for animal damage controllers. We don't get paid for non-target catches. For example, animals are often more attracted to one kind of bait over another. Bait selection can be an extremely effective way to reduce non-target catches.

Trap location is another technique to reduce non-target catches. If I set a Conibear in your third floor attic, I can pretty much guarantee that I will not catch your neighbor's cat.

Choosing a trap size is another way to use traps selectively. The smaller the trap, the fewer animals you can catch with it. Trappers want to use the trap needed for the animal they seek.

Finally, there is a whole new generation of traps that have been designed to catch a particular species. While not perfect, they significantly reduce the risk of non-target capture and therefore reduce the potential of possibly injuring non-target animals. Taken all together the educated trapper and animal damage controller can do a great deal to eliminate non-target catches. Is it perfect? No. But can trapping ever be 100 percent perfect? I doubt it.

Language barrier

Animal Activists frequently neglect to use precise terminology when referring to various traps. Take the Animal Protection Institute of America's page on leghold traps which on July 29, 1997, had a sentence which said, ""Padded" Leghold Traps - Almost identical to a leghold trap except for a thin strip of rubber on the jaws, the "padded" leghold trap is promoted as a "humane" killing device by trapping advocates."

But foothold traps of either type, padded or steel, are NOT killing devices. Foothold traps are restraining devices. Trappers do use foothold traps in drowning sets, but it isn't the trap that kills the animal, it is the way the trap is attached to a drowning wire that kills the animal. Make a few changes in the anchoring system and the animal will be alive when the trapper checks the trap. One simple change would be to anchor the trap on dry ground, a distinction that unfortunately doesn't seem to concern animal rights activists.


Humane traps really aren't all that humane

Animal rights activists frequently tell the public how many countries ban the use of the foothold (the number I have recently seen is 80). What they fail to tell you is that most of those countries don't have fur bearers worthy to be trapped at all or where a foothold is needed to capture them. It sounds great to say that countries have banned the foothold but it loses its argumentative strength when you consider that they may not need the foothold. But the activists neglect to point out that these countries use traps that have not been demonstrated to be any more humane than the foothold. We encourage people to read Dominique Crasson's "Study into Trapping in Five European Union Countries" published in July 1996 by Licenciee en Biologie (Universite de Louvain-la Neuve, Belgique).

The fact is that so-called "live traps" can really be quite cruel. For example, a squirrel trapped in a box trap (we don't call them live traps because it is too vague a term; in fact footholds and sometimes snares are live traps) may panic and actually die from fright in the cage. Or it may die from exposure in winter. In these circumstances, a kill trap placed over the squirrel den opening gives the animal a reasonable chance to die quickly.

In Massachusetts, the antis continuously chant the mantra that Bailey and Hancock beaver traps are humane. Beaver trapping season in Massachusetts extends from November 15-February 28.  The Bailey trap is set in water. But unlike the Hancock, the Bailey trap holds the beaver in the cold water, where it can suffer from hypothermia. One biologist found that beaver's core temperature dropped more than 10 degrees. Normal temperature for a beaver is 98 degrees Fahrenheit. By the way, the biologist checked his traps daily and in the morning. Bailey traps are great in the summer because the water keeps the beaver cool. In the winter, the beaver essentially begins to freeze to death.

Given the animal rights activists' anti-science propensity, it is not surprising that they wouldn't tell you about the important role foothold traps play in scientific research of canines such as fox and coyote. According to a Vermont state agency report3 on page six, "Trapping is often used in research and reintroduction efforts. The foothold was used extensively to conduct catch-and-release coyote and red fox home range studies here in Vermont. . Many of the traps used in these efforts are the same as those used by the public to harvest furbearers.



1. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife of Massachusetts, 508-366-4470.
2. Ibid.
3. The Role of Regulated Trapping and the Management of Furbearers in Vermont ... Present and Future, Published in February 1998 by Agency of Natural Resources, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, 103 South Main Street, Waterbury, VT 05671-0501; 802-241-3700


About The Author

Staff's photo
Staff -

All Authors Of This Article: | Stephen Vantassel |
Like this article?
Don’t forget to share, like or follow us