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CASH Courier > Summer 1994 Issue

Selected Articles from our newsletter

The C.A.S.H. Courier
From the Summer 1994 Issue

TRAPPING FOR DISEASE CONTROL?

Excerpted from Jaws of Steel
BY THOMAS EVELAND, PH.D.

[DR. EVELAND IS A FORMER TRAPPER WHO WRITES IN HIS FOREWORD: “IF I HAD CONTINUED DOWN THAT PATH, I HAVE NO DOUBT THAT TODAY I WOULD BE HAPPILY EMPLOYED BY SOME STATE WILDLIFE AGENCY. I WOULD BE WANDERING THROUGH THE HALLWAYS AND OFFICES OF SOME STATE BUILDLING PERFORMING MY DUTIES OF PROMOTING ANNUAL FURBEARER HARVESTING AND UNQUESTIONABLY ACCEPTING THE PRINCIPLES OF WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT. ...TIMES CHANGE, HOWEVER, AND SO DO SOME PEOPLE...”]

Only three steps away from his supper, Haskle’s entire world was shattered. The leg-hold trap snapped shut on his right front leg at about mid-calf. The young raccoon threw his furry frame backwards out of pure instinct and squealed from both pain and shock.

But it was too late. His fate was sealed.

Haskle flailed wildly for countless minutes, stretching the chain to its four-foot length, then biting at the steel jaws that held him. At one point he bit down so hard on the steel that three of his teeth broke, one of them a large front canine. The right front leg was not really injured from the trap, but it did pinch sharply. Piercing waves of pain, though, shot through his jaw from his broken teeth....As the sun climbed into the heavens a distant but distinct crunch of leaves indicated the approach of something from downstream. Haskle tried to press his muddy frame into the root crotch so he could defend himself against whatever it was. The noise grew louder and louder until the two could see each other. A huge creature towered over him.

Haskle sat motionless watching as the man ... took a forty-inch ax handle, walked over to the raccoon and surveyed the situation. Haskle wanted only to escape, to leave this place of danger and pain. Unable to break the chain from one last attempt, he did the only other thing he could, he lunged at the leg of the trapper. Being experienced, the trapper was alert to such attempts. He jumped back in time to avoid being bitten. He laughed at the raccoon’s feeble thrust and said out loud, “My! My! You are a vicious little devil, aren’t you?”

Haskle had thrown his frame at the trapper with every last ounce of effort he had left. The awkward weight of the leg-hold trap caused him to be off balance and he fell to one side. Before he could stand again, the first rock hard thud of the ax handle hit him in the neck. The moving raccoon had caused the trapper to miss his skull by only inches. Haskle quickly turned and bit the club, driving his one unbroken canine deep into the wood. With a snap of the wrist, the trapper had the handle above his head again, only this time he struck his mark. The first strike to the side of the young raccoon’s head would have been enough, but two more were for good measure... The actual pain and suffering that an individual animal goes through when caught in a trap defies description. State wildlife departments rarely consider the single animal; they only deal with populations of animals and overall harvest data. Thus, the humane and ethical treatment of the individual animal once caught in a trap is left entirely to the discretion of the club-wielding trapper. A rather disturbing thought, to say the least.

Trappers claim that the use of leg-hold traps is necessary to control disease outbreaks in nature. And if disease is controlled, wildlife populations will be healthier. “If we control rabies in the wild,” they say, “then fewer people will be bitten by rabid animals.” This is an outrageous claim that is not supported by the scientific literature So what does the scientific literature say? Have research programs been conducted to determine the trappers’ ability to control rabies, and if so, what have they concluded? From the mid-1950s through the 1960s, the State of Virginia reported one of the highest incidences of fox rabies in the entire U.S. As a result, the state initiated a large-scale trapping campaign designed to reduce Red and Gray fox populations.

By the late 1960s, after several years of intensive fox killing, no evidence existed to indicate the trapping program had successfully reduced the incidence of rabies...and some researchers felt trapping had caused a definite increase in the number of rabies cases. It was concluded that the trapping program had interrupted the natural cycles and the foxes’ social system. Hence, as some foxes were removed and overall density reduced, the remaining foxes increased their movements. This led to more territorial squabbles and increased ranging in search of mates. The outcome led to the disease being spread faster and farther.

Another problem relative to rabies control through trapping is the non-selective nature of the leg-hold trap. Neither leg-hold traps nor trappers have the ability to take only infected individuals. Healthy individuals are also caught and killed.

Some evidence suggests that trapping could actually make matters worse. When an animal is infected with rabies, it does not eat during the latter stages of the disease. As such, it won’t respond to baited traps. This could cause trappers, through the disproportionate removal of healthy animals, to increase the overall percentage of rabid animals in the total population.

Trappers have exploited the public’s fear of the dreaded disease, rabies, for decades. Yet, little supportive evidence exists that indicates, like Virginia’s fox rabies case, that trapping has ever controlled an outbreak of rabies. Consequently, if you do any investigative review of this subject on your own, you will begin to wonder how the trapping community could continue to hang on to this weak argument.

For instance, in 1973 the National Academy of Science published a report entitled “Control of Rabies.” It was researched and written by the Subcommittee on Rabies, Committee on Animal Health, Agricultural Board and National Research Council. 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.” Then years later, in 1983, another report entitled “Report on Rabies” was issued by Fromm Laboratories. The report reads: “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.” In 1976, Dr. Lee Talbot, chief of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality gave Congressional testimony that said: “The incidence of rabies does not appear to increase or decrease with changes in trapping methods. The contention that rabies increases dramatically when steel leghold traps are banned seems entirely without merit.”

The evidence not only suggests, but flatly states that trapping not only fails to control rabies in certain circumstances, but it may increase the number of cases. It also suggests that trapping spreads rabies faster and farther than no trapping at all. Yet if you ask the average trapper on the street about trapping’s role in rabies control, he’ll swear it severely reduces or actually eliminates the disease. If you talk disease control with a trapper he’ll tell you, as most of the pro-trapping literature does, that trapping controls all wildlife related disease. Yet, when I reviewed the scientific literature, I failed to locate a single study that concluded trapping controlled disease. Again, not only did I fail to find supportive evidence, but virtually everything I did find indicated trapping may actually make matters worse.

DR. EVELAND HAS A PH.D. IN ECOLOGY AND A M.S. IN BIOLOGY. HE IS A HUMAN-ANIMAL CONFLICT SPECIALIST. DR. EVELAND HAS HELPED THE COALITION TO PREVENT THE DESTRUCTION OF CANADA GEESE ON NUMEROUS OCCASIONS, AND HIS EXPERTISE HAS HELPED TO WIN “STAYS” AND CONVERTS. HE IS CURRENTLY A CONSULTANT TO A ROCKLAND COUNTY TOWN FOR THE IMPLEMENTATION OF A PRECEDENT SETTING STRATEGIC FEEDING PROGRAM FOR CANADA GEESE WHICH WILL BE IMPLEMENTED IN THE TOWN‘S PARKS. JAWS OF STEEL MAY BE ORDERED FROM THE FUND FOR ANIMALS, SUITE LL2, 850 SLIGO AVE., SILVER SPRING, MD 20910. DR. EVELAND CAN BE CONTACTED AT: P.O. BOX 34, MINISINK HILLS, PA 18341.

[Editor’s Note: There has never been a case of a human contracting rabies from a raccoon. There are only one to two cases of human rabies a year according to the Center for Disease Control in Atlandta, Georgia.] 

Few men could endure to watch for five minutes an animal struggling in a trap with a crushed and torn limb...I know of no sight more sorrowful than that of these unoffending creatures ... as they are seen in the torture grip of these traps. They sit drawn up into a little heap, as if collecting all their force of endurance to support the agony; some sit in a half torpid state induced by intense suffering. Most young ones are found dead after some hours of it, but others as you start up, struggle violently to escape, and shriek pitiably, from terror and the pangs occasioned by their struggles ... It is scarecely possible to exaggerate the suffering thus endured from fear, from acute pain, maddened by thirst, and by vain attempts to escape...Some who reflect on this subject for the first time will wonder how such cruelty can have been permitted in this age of civilization; and no doubt if men of education saw with their own eyes what takes place under their sanction, the system would have been put an end to long ago.

CHARLES DARWIN, GARDENERS’ CHRONICLE AND AGRICULTURAL GAZETTE, 1863. (SIXTY-FIVE NATIONS HAVE NOW BANNED THE LEGHOLD TRAP; THE U.S. AND CANADA STILL ALLOW ITS USE.)

SENT TO C.A.S.H. BY JOHN EBERHART OF THE GEORGIA EARTH ALLIANCE, P.O. BOX 1231, FAYETTEVILLE, GA 30214-6231. 404-416-4500 (24 HOURS.)

 

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