Traps are responsible for unimaginable suffering for all animals who encounter them, whether they are 'targeted' or non-target animals (endangered species, pets, deer, birds, etc.) Traps also pose a safety risk to humans as it is legal to set leg-hold, Conibear and snare traps 300 metres from a dwelling on public, private or Crown lands.
There are 3 main traps used in Canada today: the leg-hold, Conibear and snare trap.
1. The Leg-Hold Trap
The leghold is referred to as a 'restraining trap'. It is used primarily on foxes, coyotes, raccoons, wolves, lynx and bobcats. These traps are placed where animals will be passing through, and catch the animal by the limb (ensuring the pelt remains unspoiled).
Often called a "foot-hold" trap by proponents of the fur trade, the leg-hold is comprised of a metal foot plate and curved jaws, powered by hefty springs. It is usually anchored into the ground by a short chain and metal spike or is secured to a tree or large branch.
Once triggered, the trap immobilizes the animal, preventing them from eating, caring for their babies, staying hydrated, fending off predators, and sheltering themselves from the elements. Leg-hold traps are designed to hold a wild animal who does not want to be caught and as such, many animals become so desperate, they resort to chewing or wringing off their own trapped limb in order to escape, breaking teeth and bones in the process.
The animal endures a painful and panic-filled wait until they either die from exhaustion, blood loss, dehydration, hypothermia, or are clubbed, choked or stomped to death by the trapper (so as not to damage the pelt).
Despite being banned by many countries around the world, as well as Florida, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Arizona, the leg-hold trap is still legal in every province and territory in Canada (only leg-holds with 'teeth' have been prohibited). The American Veterinary Association, the American Animal Hospital Association, the World Veterinary Association, the National Animal Control Association and the Sierra Club all oppose the leg-hold trap. Every Canadian should know how to open a leg-hold trap in case of an emergency. APFA has a short video tutorial here.
The following are the most common models of leg-hold traps:
|Padded||The so-called 'padded' trap clamps onto an animal’s leg with enough power to hold a desperate, panicking wolf. The only difference between a padded trap and a regular steel jawed leg-hold trap is a strip of synthetic nylon lining the powerful steel jaws. This can be likened to slamming your hand in a car door with a thin glove on. This trap is marketed by the fur industry as "humane".|
|Offset||The offset trap is a regular steel jawed leg-hold trap with a 3/16” gap between the closed steel jaws. The small space was thought to allow for blood flow to the trapped limb. When blood flow is restricted, it numbs the trapped limb, increasing the likelihood of an animal chewing or wringing off their limb, and escaping.|
|Laminated||The laminated trap is a regular steel jawed leg-hold trap with extra steel added to the jaws to make them wider (thicker). The pressure of the jaws is spread over a larger area with the intention of allowing for increased blood flow. As described above, when blood flow is restricted, it numbs the trapped limb, increasing the likelihood of an animal chewing or wringing off their limb, and escaping.|
2. The Conibear Trap
The Conibear trap was invented in 1957 by Frank Conibear, who wanted to create an alternative to leg-hold traps that would kill the animal instantly. However, the Conibear is an indiscriminate trap that, according to the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, often results in animals being "seriously injured and suffer[ing] for many hours or days before being found by trappers". The trap consists of two rectangular frames with a trigger, that when activated, slams shut on the body. This is meant to happen when animals walk or swim through it, though in many cases "[b]ecause the size of an animal or the way it enters the trap cannot be controlled, non-target animals, which are either too large or too small, often get caught in these traps". All too often, this critically injures the animal without killing him or her, resulting in an agonizing, prolonged death. In many Canadian provinces, a trapper can leave a Conibear trap unchecked for up to 14 days – a ghastly amount of time for an animal to be caught and held, defenseless and in anguish. In other words, the Conibear does not 'kill instantly' unless the animal happens to be just the “right size” for the trap, comes into the trap at the “right speed”, and also from the “right angle”.
Even trappers refer to the Conibear as a "body-holding" or "body-gripping" trap, thereby acknowledging that it is not accurate to describe it as a kill trap. Additionally, many government-issued trapping publications have been subject to a quiet, unacknowledged change, describing a Conibear as a "body-holding trap", as it is apparent that the Conibear is anything but "quick kill".
Newer Conibear type traps (such as the Magnum and the Sauvageau) have hit the market, but all suffer from the same basic design flaws.
3. The Snare Trap
The snare is an indiscriminate and extremely cruel trap used primarily for coyotes, foxes, and wolves. Both neck and leg snares are routinely used in Canada, and some provinces still allow snares to be placed in trees, causing the animals to hang after they have been caught.
The snare, though simple in design, causes immense suffering to any animal who encounters one. A wire loop is placed along a traveling path where the animal will walk through it. The snare tightens as the animal tries to free him or herself, resulting in restraint, or death by slow strangulation. Some animals struggle long enough for the snare to make it difficult to breathe, but not enough to be killed. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies states that snares "cause an agonizing prolonged death and restraining snares cause animals to suffer excruciating pain when caught by their limb".
Sometimes the ensnared animal manages to pull the snare from its stake in the ground. There are accounts of wolves and even bears with the snare wire embedded painfully in their infected flesh. These animals are doomed to a prolonged, painful death, as infection increasingly debilitates them, impacting their ability to hunt, feed, and walk.
Non-target animals are also at risk. Ungulates, like deer or elk, will stumble into the snare which grasps them by the leg. In the struggle to free themselves, they can break their limbs, which leaves them in excruciating pain and completely vulnerable to predators.
A word about "jellyheads"
Wally Jakubas, a mammal scientist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife was conducting a study of snared coyotes when he noticed an alarming trend. After checking 94 snared coyotes, he noticed a large proportion of carcasses with fractured limbs, broken teeth, bullet holes, and grotesquely swollen heads (called ‘jellyheads’ by trappers).
When the snare doesn't close sufficiently, it constricts the jugular vein on the outside of the neck, thereby preventing blood from returning to the heart. Meanwhile, the carotid artery keeps pumping blood into the brain, eventually rupturing its vascular system.
In a memo to his supervisor, Jakubas wrote: “Anyone who has had a migraine knows what it feels like to have swollen blood vessels in the head. To have blood vessels burst because of pressure must be excruciating”.
Almost one-third of the animals Jakubas examined were ‘jellyheads’. Almost another third had been clubbed or shot, indicating that snares do not kill quickly (as the industry claims they do).
A crying shame
Our film, Crying Shame contains video taken by a licensed trapper on a registered trapline during trapping season. The traps described above are depicted in this video, and all cameras were automatic (no humans approached the trapped animals).