The Inhumaneness of Certain Traps

The MSPCA is opposed to the use of the steel jaw leghold (sometimes called foot-hold) traps and padded leghold traps as methods for capturing animals for two primary reasons:

1)    these traps, even with “padded” or off-set jaws, are not humane; and
2)    these traps are indiscriminate; non-target animals (including family pets) are caught, maimed, and killed in these traps

Download a factsheet of non-target animals caught in body-gripping traps

We base our opinion on scientific research conducted by experienced trappers in the field of furbearer management. For example, a scientific paper that reviewed mammal trapping studies stated “across the literature, the majority of studies show a significant percentage of trapped individuals suffering major injuries” and concluded that “many of the practices commonly used to trap mammals cannot be considered humane”. (Iossa and Soulsbury, 2007).

The Conibear Trap

A study by the supervisor of the Fur Management Unit for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, quoted in many publications, including Canadian Trapper, the Official Publication of the Ontario Trappers Association states about its study that:

“the most significant conclusion was that the standard Mohawk and Conibear traps did not kill the test animals instantly as originally supposed.”

This study shows that it took as long as 11 minutes and 15 seconds for a beaver to become unconscious in a drowning set of a 220 Conibear trap.

[Note: Traps that create death by drowning are considered inhumane due to the panic induced and the long period until unconsciousness (Ludders et al, 1999).  In addition to the above data, another study found the amount of time until unconsciousness to be 9 minutes for beaver and 4 minutes for muskrat (Gilbert et al, 1982). In Massachusetts, in 2018, the law was clarified to state that drowning is illegal.]

This study goes on to conclude that: “ . . . quick killing traps may not be the desirable future fur management tool. They may also not be the solutions to the humane trapping problem. In order for traps to kill instantly, tremendous energy is required, particularly in water sets. This often means expensive, heavy traps that are dangerous both to people and to their pets. Captures of non-target species is a further problem. For example, a 220 or 330 Conibear set for beaver in a channel can also catch muskrat, mink and otter.”

Another study presented at the Annual Conference of Southeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies states that “57 other unwanted mammals were captured [in Conibear traps]: cottontails (76%), opossums (20%), armadillos (1.7%), deer (1.7%) and dogs (1.7%). The last three species were all caught in 220 Conibears.”

In both of these studies, the conclusion reached can be summed up in the supervisor of the Fur Management Unit’s words: “therefore, to ensure public acceptance of trapping and to allow optimal production, selective harvesting must become the fur manager’s goal. This can only be achieved through the use of live-traps.”

The Leghold Trap

The following is a quote from Dick Randall, former acting District Supervisor of the Animal Damage Control (ADC) program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

“Even though I was an experienced, professional trapper, my trap victims included non-target species such as bald and golden eagles, a variety of hawks and other birds, rabbits, sage grouse, pet dogs, deer, antelope, porcupines, sheep and calves. The leg-hold is inherently nonselective….my trapping records show that. For each target animal I trapped, about two unwanted individuals were caught.  Because of trap injuries, these non-target species had to be destroyed.” (California Department of Fish and Game, Draft Environmental Document Regarding Furbearing and Non-game Mammal Hunting and Trapping February 2, 1996, pg 81)

The report goes on to state: “The Department has gathered information on the capture of non-target animals with leg-hold traps over the years.  On a one-day (March 1987) survey of muskrat trap line in Colusa County, 26 muskrats were caught, compared to 19 non-target animals in the same trap line, consisting of between 150 and 200 traps. During another survey in Tehama County (1975) consisting of 6,713 trap nights, seven coyotes (target species) were caught, compared to 85 non-target species.  And during a bobcat study in San Diego County involving 4,248 trap nights, 42 bobcats were trapped, compared to 91 non-target species, including coyote, greater roadrunner, raccoon, California ground squirrel, gray fox, cottontail, spotted skunk, and opossum.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association has stated that:

“Leghold traps pose a risk of injury to both target and non-target animals” and advised that “Any sanctioned use of leg hold traps should be accompanied by evidence that their use is necessary and the most humane option that meets the needs of the research or other sanctioned use.”

The American Animal Hospital Association considers legholds to be inhumane. Animals caught in leg-hold traps suffer lacerations, broken bones and joint dislocation, tooth and tongue injuries as well as hunger, thirst, exposure, panic, and shock. As well, biologists consider trapping with unmodified leghold traps to be the foremost most stressful way for an animal to be captured or killed. (Todd, Arlen W. “A Method of Prioritizing Furbearer Species for Research and Development in Humane Capture Methods As Applied in Canada.” Wildlife Society Bulletin 15 (1987):372-80)

In addition, formal studies and anecdotal evidence show that for every target animal trapped between two and three unwanted animals are caught, including family pets. The exact numbers are not known because trappers are not required to report non-target animals caught in their traps. (Painful Trapping Devices, ser. No. 94-18 Hearings before the Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation and the Environment of the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries. U. S. House of Representatives, Nov. 17-18, 1975.  Cited were: Ontario Department of Lands and Forests. Technical Bulletin. Wildlife Series #8, November 1959, p. 167.  Study by the Canadian Association for Humane Trapping, p. 23.  Study in Great Britain, p. 167) (Ibid. Testimony of Dick Randall, p. 273)

Trapping proponents will argue that trap injuries are reduced by the use of padded traps (just a thin layer of plastic on the jaws of a regular leghold trap), offset jaws (that do not close fully against each other), pan tension adjustments, and other modifications—especially those touted as “Best Management Practices.” While some of those modifications may reduce the harm to captured animals and can theoretically affect which animals will be caught, the fact remains that these cause stress to captured animals—even pets.  Most people do not know how to release an animal from body-gripping traps of any kind, and will be injured trying to do so—by the trap and/or the frightened animal. Conibear trap manufacturers and users themselves even warn that these are meant to be kill traps and that pets caught in them are unlikely to be released alive.

There is no reason to expand the usage of these inhumane traps.


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