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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Trap nets used to trap birds (tacuinum sanitatis casanatensis); XIV century.

Animal trapping, or simply trapping, is the use of a device to remotely catch an animal. Animals may be trapped for a variety of purposes, including food, wildlife management, or pest control. Trapping may also specify the capture of mammals for their furs, which are then used for clothes and other articles, or sold / bartered (see fur trade).



Animal trapping is perhaps one of the first methods of hunting. Neolithic hunters, including the members of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture of Romania and Ukraine (ca. 5500-2750 BC), used traps to capture their prey.[1] A passage from the self-titled book by Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi describes Chinese methods used for trapping animals during the 4th century BC. The Zhuangzi reads, "The sleek-furred fox and the elegantly spotted leopard...can’t seem to escape the disaster of nets and traps.”[2][3] "Modern" steel jaw-traps were first described in western sources as early as the late 16th century.[4] The first mention comes from Leonard Mascall's book on animal trapping.[5] It reads, "a griping trappe made all of yrne, the lowest barre, and the ring or hoope with two clickets." [sic][6] Traps were set in forests of large estates in England for poachers hunting on the land without permission. Soon after land had to be posted with signs warning men of such traps being set. The mousetrap, with a strong spring device spring mounted on a wooden base, was patented in 1910 by James Henry Atkinson, a trap maker from Leeds, Yorkshire, England.

Trapping was widely done in the early days of North American settlements, companies such as the Canadian fur brigade were established. Native Americans trapped fur bearing animals with pits, dead falls, and rudimentary snares. Europeans learned from the native Americans when they first arrived in eastern North America how to trap animals with deadfalls and pits. Leghold traps were later made in the 1700s by blacksmiths for trappers who requested that traps be made for them. In the mid 1800s, trap companies became established, making traps and fur strechers.

The monarchs and trading companies of Europe invested heavily in voyages of exploration. The race was on to establish trading posts with the natives of North America, as trading posts could also function as forts and legitimize territorial claims. The Hudson's Bay Company was one such business. They traded commodities such as rifles, pistols, knives, food, frying pans, pots or blankets were exchanged for furs from trappers and Native Americans.

Trappers and mountain men were the first European men to cross the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains in search of fur. They traded with Native Americans from whom they learned hunting and trapping skills.

The white trappers used steel leg hold traps as well as snares and dead falls. Beaver was one of the main animals of interest to the trappers as the fur wore well in coats and hats. Beaver hats became popular in the early 1800s but later the fashon changed. Towards the end of the century beaver became scarce in many areas and extirpated in others. The decline in key species of fur-bearers, due to over-harvesting, and the later emergence of the first regulatory laws marked the end of the heyday of unregulated trapping. Many trappers turned to buffalo hunting, serving as scouts for the army or leading wagon trains to Oregon, California and other parts of the American west. The trails that trappers used to get through the mountains were later used by settlers heading west.

Reasons for trapping

Trapping is done for a variety of reasons. Mostly it is practiced for food or fur but sometimes it is done for wildlife management or pest control. Fur-bearing mammals are targeted for their fur to be used in clothes and other articles. The dead animals are skinned, and the fur is used to make clothes or is sold or bartered.

For fur

A fur trapper is a person whose employment occupation involves the trapping of animals for their fur. In the early days of the colonization settlement of North America, the trading of furs was common between the settlers and the local Indians. Many locations at which trading took place were referred to as trading posts.

Trapping continues to be a profession in many areas around the world, although relatively few people make a full-time living from it. Competition from fur farming and fluctuating populations of wild animals have made trapping a minor industry. Fur prices have trended downward for many years, while costs have gone up, resulting in a dramatically lessened economic incentive.

Some species have collapsed to such an extent, in some locations, that harvesting them is entirely prohibited, particularly in the continental United States and in many parts of southern and western Europe. This is especially true of predator species such as the Canadian Lynx in much of the US. Yet certain other fur-bearing species, including beaver and coyote, have shown dramatic population increases in certain regions.

Popular quarry of fur trappers are: beaver, raccoon, wolverine, mink, ermine, American marten, bobcat, lynx, and muskrat.

For food

Animals may be trapped for food, Animals commonly trapped for food include rabbits, opossum, and raccoon.

Damage prevention

Animals are frequently trapped in many parts of the world to prevent damage to personal property, as well as the killing of livestock by predatory animals.

Other reasons

Animals may also be trapped for public display or for such purposes as obtaining elements used to the practice of traditional medicine.

Use of traps

Trapping requires time and energy but can be very efficient. Trapping may be safe and inexpensive for the trapper, but in modern times it has become controversial, because of its alleged cruelty. In part to address these concerns, in 1996, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, an organization made up of state and federal fish and wildlife agency professionals, began testing traps and compiling recommendations “to improve and modernize the technology of trapping through scientific research” known as Best Management Practices.[7] As of October 2008, best management practice recommendations for trapping 10 common furbearers had been published.[8]

Trapping is regularly used for pest control most commonly of beaver, coyote, raccoon, cougar, bobcat, Virginia opossum and fox in order to limit damage to farming, ranching, and property. Federal authorities in the United States use trapping as the primary means to control predators that prey on endangered species such as the San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica), California least tern (Sterna antillarum browni) and desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii).[9] Proponents claim that trapping can reduce numbers of predators in order to increase the populations of quarry species for hunting. They also claim that it can be used to control over population. Trapping is also used for research and relocation of wildlife.[10]

Many wildlife biologists support the use of regulated trapping for sustained harvest of some species of furbearers. They claim that trapping can be an effective method of managing or studying furbearers, controlling damage caused by furbearers, and at times reducing the spread of harmful diseases. These biologists believe that regulated trapping is a safe, efficient, and practical means of capturing individual animals without impairing the survival of furbearer populations or damaging the environment. They also support regulatory and educational programs, research to evaluate trap performance and the implementation of improvements in trapping technology in order to improve animal welfare.[11]

Despite regulations, trappers sometimes leave traps unattended for long periods of time and trap animals out of season, leading to fines, restitution and trapping license revocations.[12][13]


Today most of the traps used can be easily divided into five types: foothold traps, body gripping traps, snares, cages and glue traps.

Foothold traps

An offset leghold trap designed for catching Bears, sprung position.

Probably most commonly associated with trapping, the foothold trap is made up of two jaws, one or two springs, and a trigger in the middle which is usually a round pan. When the animal steps on the trigger the trap closes around the foot, preventing the animal from escaping. Usually some kind of lure is used to position the animal, or the trap is set on an animal trail. Foothold traps set for beaver, mink, river otter, and muskrat are positioned in shallow water along the shores and banks of rivers, lakes and ponds. Sometimes the trap is attached to a weight sunk in deeper water. The animal, when caught by the foot, tries to escape by diving into deep water and drowns. Traditionally, these traps had tightly closing jaws to make sure the animal stayed in place. These traps are made in various sizes from catching weasels to bears. At one time traps for wolves and bears had rounded teeth on the jaws to prevent escape.

Modified traps are now available with offset jaws, or lamination, or both, both of which decrease pressure on the animals legs. Traps are also available with a padded jaw, which has rubber inserts inside the jaws to reduce animal injuries.[14] However these traps are more expensive and not widely employed except by research and conservation experts.[15] A single number 3 foothold trap which has a 6 inch jaw spread and commonly used for trapping beaver and coyote costs about 10 to 15 dollars depending on the make, while a padded jaw or "Soft Catch" trap cost from 12 to 20 dollars.[16] Today's traps are specially designed in different sizes for different sized animals which trappers and trap manufacturers claim also reduces injuries.[17] It has been claimed by anti-fur campaigners that animals caught in leghold traps will frequently chew off their leg to escape the trap,[18] but trappers dispute this, saying that such animals would almost certainly bleed to death before chewing though the bones of the leg.[citation needed]

The use of foothold traps, including those with padded jaws, can result in numerous soft tissue injuries including skin laceration, tendon and ligament damage, and dislocation of joints due to attempts to escape the trap, when a animal is left in a trap for extended periods of time. These traps may also cause simple and compound fractures of toe, foot and leg bones. Limb amputations and frostbite are also possible.[19] In some cases, the trapped animal moves around so that the bone breaks, a sharp edge of the bone pierces both muscle and skin. As the animal moves around, it eventually tears the skin and muscle, freeing itself from the trap, Muskrats with three legs have been caught in Conibear traps with the leg as healed.

The traps are often criticized for being indiscriminate, and non-target animals are sometimes caught in these traps, occasionally including dogs, cats, and endangered species. Trappers claim that these animals are usually able to be released unharmed and that research has shown that new varied size traps are not indiscriminate. They also claim that regulations regarding the placing and baiting of traps prevents injury or capture to most non-target animals. USDA study on coyote trapping indicated that some steel jaw traps leave up to 45% of trapped animals moderately to severely injured. These are the preferred traps used for capture and relocation of endangered and threatened species such as Wolf, Otter and Bobcat.[20][21]

In states that have banned the use of the foothold trap, a number of issues have arisen. In Massachusetts, the beaver population increased from 24,000 in 1996 to over 70,000 beaver in 2001.[22] Coyote attacks on humans rose from 4 to 10 per year, during the five year period following a 1998 ban on leghold traps in Southern California.[23]

Manufacturers of newer types of traps designed to work only on raccoons claim that these traps are dog-proof. These traps are small, and rely on the raccoon's grasping nature to trigger the trap. They are sold as coon cuffs, bandit busters and egg traps just to name a few.[24]

Body gripping/conibear traps

The body gripping traps are traps designed to kill the trapped animal quickly. They are frequently called "Conibear" traps after Canadian Frank Conibear who first constructed this type of trap in 1957. This type of trap was considered by trappers one of the greatest innovations in traps in the 20th century. Animals were quickly killed and therefore no animal could escape once caught. The animal must be lured with a bait or guided into the correct position before the trap is triggered. The animal touches the wire triggering mechanism which springs the trap. The trap is designed to close on the neck or torso of the animal which closes the trachea, and usually fractures the spinal column. Animals die in one to two minutes. The trap is made from round bar steel and comes in several sizes. One size is 5 by 5 inches (130 by 130 mm) square shaped, for muskrats and mink. Another is 7 by 7 inches (180 by 180 mm) for raccoons and possums. The third is 10 by 10 inches (250 by 250 mm) for beaver and otter. Conibear traps are mostly used to trap muskrats or beaver.

A golden eagle was also documented to have been killed in a conibear trap in January 2008 in Montana.[25]

Deadfall traps

A deadfall is a heavy rock or log that is tilted on an angle and held up with sections of branches (sticks), with one of them that serves as a trigger. When the animal moves the trigger which may have bait on or near it, the rock or log falls, crushing the animal. As a rule of thumb, the rock or log selected for use in a deadfall must be at least five times heavier than the weight of the target animal. The figure-four deadfall is a popular and simple trap constructed from materials found in the bush (three sticks with notches cut into them, plus a heavy rock or other heavy object). Also popular, and easier to set, is the Paiute deadfall, consisting of three long sticks, plus a much shorter stick, along with a cord or fiber material taken from the bush to interconnect the much shorter stick (sometimes called catch stick or trigger stick) with one of the longer sticks, plus a rock or other heavy object.[26]


Snares are anchored cable or wire nooses set to catch wild animals such as foxes, rabbits, and coyotes. In the UK, they are commonly used for population control, but are used as well at times for food collection (e.g., rabbits) or for research.[27] In the USA, they are most commonly used for capture and control of surplus furbearers, and, especially, for food collection. They are also widely used by subsistence and commercial hunters for bushmeat consumption and trade in African forest regions.[28]

Snares are one of the simplest traps and are very effective.[29] They are cheap to produce and easy to set in large numbers. A snare traps an animal around the neck or the body and tightens around the animal, restraining it. Snares are widely criticised by animal welfare groups for their alleged cruelty.[30] UK users of snares accept that over 40% of animals caught in some environments will be non-target animals, although the range of non-target captures range from 21% to 69% depending on the environment.[27] In the USA, non-target catches reported by users of snares in Michigan were 17 +/- 3%.[31] Some scientists believe that in animals which are trapped, pressure necrosis may have caused hidden injury to the animal, and that trapped animals should be taken to a vet rather than released.[32] However, trappers claim that modifications now provide working snares that have relaxing locks that do not cinch down, break-away locks that open up after 110 kg of force are exacted, deer stops which prevent the snare from closing down so far as to catch a deer's leg, and live-catch stops that prevent the snare from closing to a point that chokes an animal of a certain size.[citation needed]

Snares are regulated in many jurisdictions, but are illegal in other jurisdictions, such as in much of Europe. Different regulations apply to snares in those areas where they are legal. In Iowa, snares have to have a 'deer stop' which stops a snare from closing all the way. In the United Kingdom, snares must be 'free-running' so that they can relax once an animal stops pulling, thereby allowing the trapper to decide whether to harvest[33][34] the animal or release it. Following a consultation on options to ban or regulate the use of snares,[35] the Scottish Executive announced a series of measures on the use of snares, such as the compulsory fitting of safety stops, ID tags and marking areas where snaring takes place with signs.[36] In some jurisdictions, swivels on snares are required, and dragging (non-fixed) anchors are prohibited.[37][38]

Trapping pit

Trapping pits are deep pits dug into the ground, or built from stone, in order to trap animals. Like cage traps they are usually employed for catching animals without harming them.

Cage traps

Cage traps are designed to catch live animals in a cage. They are usually baited, sometimes with food bait and sometimes with a live "lure" animal. Cage traps usually have a trigger located in the back of the cage that causes a door to shut; some traps with two doors have a trigger in the middle of the cage that causes both doors to shut. In either type of cage, the closure of the doors and the falling of a lock mechanism prevents the animal from escaping by locking the door(s) shut. Supporters of cage traps say that they are the most humane form of trapping, and in some countries are the only method of trapping allowed. However studies have shown that animals restrained in cage traps may break claws or teeth, and skin their faces.[39]

Cage trap with shade cloth to protect animal from heat.

Cage traps are used by animal control officers to catch unwanted animals and move them to another location without harm, as well as by gamekeepers to catch birds and animals they consider to be pests, and which are killed after catching. Cage traps are also sometimes used for capturing small animals such as squirrels by homeowners in urban areas, such as in attics of homes, for removal to locations where they may either be legally killed and disposed of, or released unharmed. (Some municipal jurisdictions specifically prohibit transporting live squirrels and releasing them into other areas to control the spread of diseases; for these jurisdictions, killing the squirrels within the cage quickly and humanely is the only legal and ethical means of disposing of them.) Cage traps are also useful in catching large dangerous animals for transport and are a favourite of Australian crocodile trappers. Due to their bulk and cost, they are hard to set in great numbers or in remote locations. Cage traps are also used in muskrat trapping. A cage trap in set in a runway and the muskrat pushes the door open which is at a 45 degrees. But once the muskrat enters the cage trap the other side is closed with another door at 45 degrees. So the muskrat drowns in the trap which is set under water. No bait is necessary as trap is set in muskrats runway.

Glue traps

A glue trap.

Glue traps made using natural or synthetic adhesive applied to cardboard or similar material. Bait can be placed in the center or a scent may be added to the adhesive. Glue board traps are used primarily for rodent control indoors. Glue traps are not effective outdoors due to environmental conditions (moisture, dust) making the adhesive ineffective. Glue traps are not used by animal trappers or fur trappers and are almost exclusively used by homeowners for rodent control. Many animal welfare groups, such as the Humane Society, oppose the use of glue traps for their alleged cruelty, since animals desperate to escape may chew off their own legs, and sizable sections of fur and skin may be ripped out as they struggle. Glue traps are not used for trapping birds, however a substance known as birdlime was used in the past in a similar manner to catch small birds, its use is banned now in most countries. A sticky repellent can be applied to surfaces to temporarily repel perching birds from building ledges and statues. The adhesives registered for this use are classified as tactile repellents.

Unwanted catches

Non-target animals can be caught in snares.

Trappers can employ a variety of devices and strategies to limit this problem. Trappers claim that if a non-target animal is caught, such as a dog, bobcat or lynx, it can be released without harm. A careful choice of lures may help draw wanted catch, and discourage the unwanted.

Other exclusion devices exist for snares. The catching of non-target animals can be minimized through the use of devices that exclude animals larger than the target animal. Deer stops are designed to release leg-snared deer and cattle, and are required for snare usage in many states of the USA. Precautions can be taken in the case of small animals as well. One UK report stated that researchers using 1.65 mm smooth wire, instead of the larger 2 mm standard wire, had brown hares caught about as frequently as foxes, with about half of those hares being released unharmed. ([40], section 2.7) The UK report goes on to say that using the standard, larger wire in addition to equipping the snares with rabbit stops eliminated the unwanted catch of brown hares.

See also


  1. ^ Ștefan Cucoș Faza Cucuteni B în zona subcarpatică a Moldovei Muzeul de Istorie Piatra Neamț 1999
  2. ^ Zhuangzi, and Burton Watson. The Complete Works of Zhuang Zi. New York: Columbia University Press, 1968 (ISBN 0231031475), pp. 20-21
  3. ^ Chinese: 道:"丰狐,文豹……不免于网罗机辟之患"
  4. ^ Natural History of Beavers
  5. ^ Leonard Mascall (Oxford Dictionary)
  6. ^ Mascall, Leonard. A Book of Fishing with Hook and Line: Another of Sundrie Engines and Trappes to take Polecats, Buzzards, Rates, 1590.
  7. ^ Best Management Practices
  8. ^ Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Best Management Practices
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Trapping for Research and Reintoduction". Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ Dozens of dead animals seized from MN trapper
  13. ^ Poacher fined $1,700, license suspended (August 5, 2008)
  14. ^
  15. ^ [Siemer WF, Batcheller GR, Glass RJ et al. Characteristics of trappers and trapping participation in New York. Wildl Soc Bull 1994;22:100-111. ]
  16. ^ [R-P outdoors Fall/Winter 2008-2009 catalog]
  17. ^ "Association of Fish&Wildlife Agencies". Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  18. ^ "Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade". Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  19. ^ Animal Abuse and Unlawful Killing: Forensic Veterinary Pathology P 76 By Ranald Munro, Helen M. C. Munro
  20. ^ [2]
  21. ^
  22. ^ Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (2007-09-20). "MassWildlife - Managing Beaver". Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  23. ^ "Coyote Attacks: An Increasing Suburban Problem". 2004-03-03. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  24. ^ "NTA - Trapping Facts". 2002-09-15. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  25. ^ Montana Dog Owners Find Wild-Animal Traps Put Pets in Harm’s Way
  26. ^ U.S. Army (June 1992). "Food Procurement (Chapter 8)". U.S. Army Survival Manual FM 21-76. U.S. Army. p. 8–19, 8-20. 
  27. ^ a b James Kirkwood (August 2005). "Report of the Independent Working Group on Snares" (PDF). Defra. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  28. ^ "CJO - Abstract - Cable snares and bushmeat markets in a central African forest". 2002-05-10. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  29. ^ Andelt, William F. (1993). Publication No. 6.517 Proper use of snares for capturing furbearers. Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  30. ^ "League Against Cruel Sports : Snaring". Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  31. ^ [3]
  32. ^ "Badgers". Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  33. ^ "Canadian Wildlife Federation :: The Canadian Wildlife Federation". Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  34. ^ "Governance By-law Samples: Sample Hunting By-law". 2008-11-03. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  35. ^
  36. ^ "UK | Scotland | Ministers reject snare ban plea". BBC News. 2008-02-20. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  37. ^ Wisconsin Cable Restraints and Snare Regulations
  38. ^ Michigan Fox & Coyote Non-Lethal Snaring Guide
  39. ^ Animal Abuse and Unlawful Killing: Forensic Veterinary Pathology P 77 By Ranald Munro, Helen M. C. Munro
  40. ^

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