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CASH Courier > 2003 Summer Issue

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The C.A.S.H. Courier

The Fallacy of Trapping for Disease Control

By Joe Miele
VP, Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting

Wildlife "conservation" agencies often play upon the public fear of rabies and other diseases to justify and promote their self-serving hunting and trapping programs. Like most of their other claims, their claim that trapping keeps wildlife diseases in check has absolutely no basis in reality.

Their public statements are simple ones: by reducing the population of a given species, fewer animals will remain to spread disease and kill your children. Game agencies also try to appeal to the "animal lovers" by making the false claim that nature is "cruel" and without recreational trapping, the animals will die a slow and agonizing death as disease ravages each and every one of them, until there are no animals left. State game agencies must be applauded for their fine use of hyperbole and fiction, but their deliberate dissemination of false information is nothing to praise. When the truth is told, it proves unequivocally that not only does trapping not keep the number of diseased animals in check; the practice is actually responsible for the growth rate and the spread of diseases such as rabies and mange. (Photo above: Marilyn Leybra opening a conibear trap.  To learn how, go to www.wildwatch.org )

How can this be so? As far back as we can remember we have been told that killing some animals is necessary, because without our "help" they will starve or die of disease. Aside from the fact that the animals survived very well on their own before Homo Sapiens started managing them, there is much evidence that proves the misinformation spewed by game agencies. In fact, much evidence proves the contrary is true.

The state of Virginia recently implemented a program that very nicely counters the arguments of trappers. Virginia, in cooperation with the states of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia and Vermont, began a program to halt the spread of disease by vaccinating the wild raccoon, coyote and fox population. Officials distributed more than 400,000 ice cube-sized fish meal baits containing the rabies vaccine across a 2,000 square-mile area in southwest Virginia. The baits were distributed by hand and by low-flying planes. Given that the program cost several hundred thousand dollars, it would have been far less expensive to send trappers into the woods to "cull" the diseased animals. That seven states chose the vaccination program over using trappers indicates a belief on the part of the state that there are more effective ways to control disease than by using traps. Since trapping is a well established practice in Virginia, it does not seem to be halting the spread of the disease.

The effect trapping does have on wildlife is that by reducing the number of strong, healthy animals in a given population, it leaves sick and diseased animals behind and pollutes the gene pool.

Trappers are successful in their craft because they know the habits of wild animals. They know what scents they are attracted to, and they know where they live and how they travel. When an animal is sick from a disease such as rabies, that animal will not behave in the same manner that a healthy member of his species will. During the advanced stages of rabies, the infected animal will not be hungry, and therefore will not be attracted to trap sets like their healthy brethren will be. This is precisely the stage when rabid animals try to spread their disease. The result is that the sick animals who pose the greatest risk to the health of wildlife populations are seldom caught in traps. The traps themselves are non-selective. They will catch any animals that triggers them, be that animal sick or healthy, a raccoon or a domestic cat. Traps simply cannot distinguish one animal from another. It is folly to attempt to explain how traps can target sick animals.

When healthy animals are killed and removed from the population, the sick and diseased animals are free to spread out and cover a wider area. In this way, trappers actually help to spread the very diseases that they are telling us trapping will contain. The World Health Organization confirms this fact in an article discussed in the August 7, 2001 edition of the Hartford Courant. The Courant reports that it is the opinion of "the World Health Organization and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that trapping not be used to control rabies because it eliminates a healthy buffer population that impedes the spread of the disease."

Catch a trapper in a moment of weakness and you’ll be surprised to hear what they say. Taxidermist and trapper Troy Hall said that he has never trapped to suppress or eradicate disease, and he thinks it is odd to claim that trapping will prevent animals from suffering from disease.

In his book Jaws of Steel, Ph.D. and former trapper Thomas Eveland explains that many claims made by trappers are simply not supported by scientific literature. Eveland tells his readers that over a period of more than a decade, a large-scale trapping campaign instituted by the State of Virginia failed to demonstrate any reduction in the incidence of rabies. Adding insult to the trappers’ injuries, some researchers felt trapping had caused a definite increase in the number of rabies cases. Perhaps this explains why Virginia is now using bait drops to control the spread of rabies.

Eveland also speaks of a 1973 report entitled "Control of Rabies” by the National Academy of Science. The report consisted of many things, including a list of recommendations. Recommendation Number 10 reads: "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 systems."

Ten years later, Fromm Laboratories issued a report entitled "Report on Rabies." The report reads in part: "Trapping to control rabies is considered to be an exercise in futility in the face of a rabies outbreak, because the disease itself will limit the population, and clinically rabid animals are rarely caught in traps."

Gee, that’s not what the trappers have been telling us for so many years.

When the evidence is examined, it clearly indicates that trapping fails to stop the spread of rabies, and in certain circumstances, it may actually increase the number and percentage of rabid animals in a given population. Rabies spreads faster where there is trapping than where there is no trapping at all.

You don’t have to just take Eveland’s word for it because other experts echo his assertions. Gary Suhowatsky is a research analyst who was employed by the New York State Department of health. In 1977 Suhowatsky testified before the New York State Assembly Subcommittee on Wildlife. What he had to say made every trapper within 1000 miles wince. Suhowatsky provided testimony which indicated that not only is there no evidence to support the claim that trapping reduces the incidence of contagious diseases in wildlife, but “that trapping selectively kills the healthiest and most mobile animals in the population and leaves behind the most sickly and sedentary members to perpetuate the spread of, and elevate the incidence in, the diseases in wildlife populations.”

Suhowatsky testifies that in un-trapped, natural ecosystems, there is virtually no incidence of disease. Natural selection ensures that only the strong, healthy and most resistant to disease will survive to breed the new generation. Sarcoptic mange had never been known in a red fox in New York State, until after 1945 when the effects of trapping began to show. The same is true for rabies. The first reported case of wildlife rabies ever recorded in New York occurred in 1941. By 1943, only one additional case of wildlife rabies had been reported. But soon after, the effects of wide spread trapping began to show its ugly head. Now, an average of 119 cases of rabies are reported annually in New York's foxes. It is sad to learn that once rabies free, foxes have had this terrible plague inflicted upon them because of increased trapping pressure.

As trappers continue to shout that their ugly trade contains the spread of disease, the animals they do not trap continue to spread the disease faster than they could have if the trappers would have just sat on their sofa and watched football on a Sunday afternoon instead of combing the woods for animals to kill. We agree with Mr. Suhowatsky that “nothing short of a total ban on trapping will ever restore health to our wild animal populations.”

It can also be shown that the incidence and spread of rabies can be directly correlated to the number of trapping licenses sold. Since the mid 1940’s, statistics for the number of trapping licenses sold and the number of cases of wildlife rabies have been recorded. Using a statistical analysis tool known as the “product-moment-correlation-coefficient,” we are able to mathematically and irrefutably determine relationship between trapping license sales and the number of cases of rabies in wildlife. If what the trappers say is true, the number of rabies cases should decrease when more animals are trapped. But if the opposite is true and trapping causes the spread of rabies, the “product-moment-correlation-coefficient” will indicate this. But when examining the data generated during the period from 1945 to 1975, the evidence shows conclusively that trapping not only does not control the spread of rabies, but trapping actually promotes and artificially sustains its continuation and spread.

The facts speak for themselves. The experts have done the research and have come to a conclusion that every trapper hates to hear and refuses to believe. Trapping for disease prevention is nothing but a terrible myth perpetrated upon an uninformed populace. Unfortunately for the animals, the spread of this myth is as lethal to them as the spread of disease.

To obtain JAWS OF STEEL by Thomas Eveland, go to www.Amazon.com  or contact The Fund For Animals – www.Fund.org  

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