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 – which can be days or even weeks between trap checks. 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. The American Veterinary Medical Association deems drowning to be inhumane and a 1999 study concluded “drowning cannot be considered euthanasia.”
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.
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 often a slow, painful death. 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.” Nontarget animals – including pets – comprised 76% of all animals captured in leghold traps in a 1981 study.
Historically, poorly regulated trapping almost wiped out beaver, sea otter, lynx, wolverine, cougar 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.” 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.