A Wildlife Article from All-Creatures.org

Dismantling the Myths used to Justify Trapping Wild Animals

From CAFT Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade
September 2023

This article dismantles the myths used to justify trapping for: species population control and native heritage protections.

trapped Owl
Another "unintended" victim of a wild animal trap...

Reasons for Trapping > Population Control

All wild animal species control their own population levels in relation to things like availability of food and shelter. Without interference from humans species will experience fluctuating population cycles over time. When populations are low the remaining individuals may have higher litter numbers and find more food and shelter. If the population extends above the 'carrying capacity' reproduction and litter sizes may be suppressed.

Trapping greatly disrupts this natural cycle. Although a particular species in a particular area may be able to sustain a high loss (usually by breeding larger litters the next season), the effect on others is often overlooked. The lives of many species of plants and animals are intertwined, so if a large number of prey animals are removed - and trapping often takes place at the worst time, late autumn and early winter - a major food source is taken away from predator species.

Predator species have relatively low reproductive rates and are closely tied to the number of prey species. Biologist and former trapper Thomas Eveland believes that predators cannot overpopulate an area: "There is no case in history of predatory species consuming all of the prey species and then starving to death."

Predator species are more likely to be targeted for trapping, often under the guise of controlling numbers. But it is surely no coincidence that those species that supposedly need 'controlling' are also those with the most valuable pelts.

The fear that without trapping a species may 'get out of hand' and cause serious damage has been dismissed with various case studies. One example is in Gatineau Park, Quebec, where protection from trapping led to an increase in numbers of beavers and a resultant fear that they would cause serious damage. However the beaver population reached just 60% of its capacity then stabilised through self-regulation. Female reproduction decreased with increasing population density, beavers moved from areas of high density to areas of low density, and mortality increased during a dry season.

A study of coyotes in Texas shows that a species will overcome effects of trapping. Where trapping pressure was minimal and coyote populations were at a natural level, average litter size was 4.3 pups. Where intensive 'control programs' occurred and populations were severely hit, the average litter size was 6.9 pups.

Trapping as a method of 'controlling' disease outbreaks has also been exposed as fallacy. In fact trapping can spread disease, by interrupting natural cycles and social systems. If a population is diseased trapping an area causes those remaining to increase movements spreading disease more quickly. Remember, traps are indiscriminate and trap healthy as well as sick animals. In fact healthy animals are more likely to be attracted to a baited trap as rabies-infected animals do not eat during the latter stages of the disease. With more healthy animals being caught, the overall percentage of rabid animals in the total population actually increases. The spread of rabies has been directly linked to the interstate transport of infected 'game' animals, especially racoons and coyotes, by trappers trying to restock areas depleted by hunting and trapping.

A 1973 National Academy of Science report on rabies control states: "Persistent trapping or poisoning campaigns as a means to rabies control should be abolished. There is no evidence that these costly and politically attractive programs reduce either wildlife reservoirs or rabies incidence. The money can be better spent on research, vaccination, compensation to stockmen for losses, education or warning system."

Reasons for Trapping > Native Communities

One popular claim in support of trapping is that it is integral to the survival of some natives, for example in Canada. This is a sensitive issue, with many white Europeans fearing being deemed a racist and preferring to back away from the subject. But the argument fails to take account of the fact that most trapping is done by 'recreational trappers' - those who do it for fun rather than need. The Standing Committee in Aboriginal Affairs recognises that "trappers, native and non-native alike, trap by choice and not need." A report by the Northwest Territories Government, one of two provinces where true trapping takes place, states that "costs of trapping with even a minimum amount of equipment exceeds average fur incomes."

The real money is made, not by the trappers, but in the manufacturing and retail sectors.

An Ontario-based organisation, Native / Animal Brotherhood, believes that the European fur trade changed the life of Canadian natives:

The arrival of fur companies required native Indians as a "cheap source of labour" and encouraged them to trap fur animals, changing the natives' nomadic lifestyle. The natives respect for animals' sharing their land was damaged as a result of the invasion by the fur trade. As Paul Hollingsworth, founder of Native / Animal Brotherhood put it: "Being forced to kill one of his animal brothers is an act distasteful to any of us, and to kill for such little reason as to make a fur coat is horrible indeed. ... no traditional native would dream of killing forty little animals to create a piece of clothing one large animal would give them." Hollingsworth further states: "The fur industry took us away from our traditional ways. It is time we reunited with our animal brothers, to seek a world which respects Mother Earth and all beings."

There is a great difference between killing for survival and killing for commercial trade, and native people have been much exploited by fur traders since the commercial trade began.

The fur industry and certain governments have only recently become 'concerned' about the fate of native people, after centuries of exploitation and neglect. In an attempt to steer the real debate away from the suffering caused to animals, industries such as the fur trade and whaling have showed false fears for the future of natives. A Makah tribe elder, opposed to the resumption of whale killing by his tribe wrote in an article in BBC Wildlife magazine: "We have become the pawns of countries such as Norway and Japan, who are using us in their global campaign to resume commercial whaling. Our culture will be a mask behind which these countries will profit."

The fur trade is no different.

Reasons for Trapping > Recreation

Despite any of the claims made above, the main reasons for trapping is the money it makes and because a few sick people gain 'pleasure' from it. In areas where trapping takes place it is seen as a 'recreational sport'. It costs a lot of money and time to trap and according to Canadian government data the 'average' trapper earns less than C$500 (?250) per year. In 1994 the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies released a national survey indicating that just 4% of trappers' income is derived from trapping.

Magazine 'American Trapper' admitted: "We have more hobby and sport trappers today than anytime and money is not their first concern."

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