Jan 252016
 

When I think of fur trappers, I imagine a frontiersman in a coonskin cap paddling his canoe full of beaver pelts down the Hudson River.

But when reporter Tom Knudson thinks of trapping, it’s a guy trudging into a forest in Nevada, or some other Western state, to set a steel-jaw trap for a bobcat.

Knudson just published an investigation for Reveal, the publishing arm of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting, into these modern-day fur trappers and their methods.

A trapper carries bobcat pelts outside the Nevada Department of Wildlife. The finest quality pelts can fetch upwards of $1,000. Photograph by Max Whittaker, Reveal

A trapper carries bobcat pelts outside the Nevada Department of Wildlife. The finest quality pelts can fetch upwards of $1,000. Photograph by Max Whittaker, Reveal

The headline sums it up: “America’s trapping boom relies on cruel and grisly tools.”

For the fur trappers, bobcats are the biggest prize. A high-quality bobcat fur coat can retail for up to $150,000. The species isn’t really at risk—the bigger problem is animal cruelty. Knudson writes:

What I discovered was a world of stunning scenery and searing pain, a landscape where bobcats and other animals are captured with a device so hazardous that it is outlawed in more than 80 nations, from Austria to Zimbabwe: the steel-jaw trap.

Traps work by slamming shut on the paw or leg of an animal and holding it until a trapper arrives. Often, they are instruments of torture. Bones can be broken. Tendons are torn. Flesh is frayed. Some animals break free by chewing or twisting off a paw or limb.

In Nevada, a bobcat pelt must be registered and tagged by a state wildlife biologist to certify that it was taken by a licensed trapper. Photograph by Max Whittaker, Reveal

And, Knudson adds, these traps are as indiscriminate as landmines. Dozens of species have gotten caught in them by mistake: bald eagles, mountain lions, even pet dogs and cats.

To make matters worse, trappers in most states aren’t required to check their traps regularly. While scientists who catch animals for studies generally check their traps at least once every 24 hours, in Nevada, for example, trappers are only required by the state to check every four days. By then, the animal might have already died from dehydration, starvation, another predator, or exhaustion from trying to break free.

Do we want America’s wildlife to be harvested so that somebody in Paris or Dubai can wear a $50,000 jacket?

Tom Knudson | Investigative reporter at Reveal

If the trapper finds the bobcat alive, the ordeal isn’t over yet. A bullet is most humane, but that could damage the pelt with a hole or blood splatter. Instead, some trappers will slip a wire noose on a pole over the bobcat’s neck and strangle it to death.

“Even lab rats are treated more humanely,” a veterinarian told Knudson.

Knudson was my former reporting partner for several stories when I worked at Reveal, so on Friday, we caught up.

How did you get interested in the subject of fur trapping?

I live near the country, so I occasionally cross paths with people who know trappers or get out into the countryside and see trapping. It just got me curious. I heard the price of bobcat pelts were soaring, and I heard a lot of animals were being taken [killed]. But I saw nothing in the news, so I began asking questions.

What was the most surprising thing you learned?

The destination for these bobcat pelts. Fur has largely fallen out of fashion in the U.S. due to concerns about animal welfare. But the destination for these pelts—China, Russia, high-end fur stores in Europe—surprised me. And also the volume. We’re talking over 50,000 animals a year killed for foreign markets. At a time when illegal trafficking of wildlife is of such a paramount concern, it struck me as interesting that we had this legal international market for our wildlife.

More than 80 other countries have banned these steel-jaw leghold traps.

In the 1990s, the European Union did ban the use of traps. Yet they continuously import fur from the U.S., Canada, and a handful of other countries that continue to use leg-hold traps. It seems like an inconsistency. This happened under an umbrella agreement worked out between the U.S. and Europe in which U.S. officials agreed to develop best practice management standards for trapping.

There has been some progress toward safer and more humane traps, but these “best practices” are totally voluntary. And it’s up to the individual states to apply them or not.

Do trappers have to go through any training?

To get a hunting license, in most states, you have to take a hunter education class. But in a number of Western states there’s no similar class required for trappers. And of course when pelt prices go through the roof, as they just did, you get a lot of people coming out of the woodwork who want to catch a $1,000 cat. A lot of these people are greenhorns. They’re novices. They don’t know how to set a trap, so it doesn’t catch a pet or a mountain lion instead of the bobcat.

A fur buyer inspects a bobcat pelt outside the Nevada Department of Wildlife. Photograph by Max Whittaker, Reveal

Is there such a thing as humane trapping?

My leg-hold trapper contacts won’t want to hear this, but you could use cage traps [it’s literally a cage that traps the animal alive]. My animal welfare contacts also won’t want to hear this, because they strongly oppose any kind of trapping. But if you needed to stay warm in the winter and need to catch fur bearing animal, you could do it with a cage trap.

You could also use a padded leg-hold trap—one that matches the size of the animal you want to catch. And you check it every day. And if you want to be really humane, you put a beacon on it, so if that trap goes off, you get a cell phone message and can go check that trap right away.

Why do you think this is an important story?

As a country we’re outraged at the poaching of elephants and rhinos in Africa that’s driven by China’s appetite for the illegal wildlife products. But here we are in America, killing wildlife legally for shipment to China—under conditions that are often cruel and inhumane.

Yet nobody knows about it. It plays out in the shadows.

It’s one thing to be harvesting wildlife for food or warmth, but do we want America’s wildlife to be harvested so that somebody in Paris or Dubai can wear a $50,000 jacket? It seems like a debate worth having.

This article was first published by National Geographic on 15 Jan 2016.


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Rosa Borisova
Guest

No one should be trapped, murdered for ANY reason. This and many other horrendous, medieval, barbaric (animal farming, animal testing, fur farms, pet shops) EVIL practises must STOP. The best way is to become VEGAN. Never use, eat or wear any animal products. There is no such thing "humane" slavery, discrimination, abuse, species and racism. Watch on YouTube: Best speech ever, Animals should be off the menu, Forks over knifes, Earthlings, Cowspiracy, Meet your meat or/and go to meat-abolition.org, adaptt.com to learn more. Please do,thanks.

Sue Lesmond
Guest

The only good hunter is a dead one.Hunt the hunter.An eye for an eye!

Delbert Smith
Guest
Your state auto license price for the wildlife does no little. If fact read your states policy. See where that money goes. Here’s an outdoor recreation stat worth breaking out at the water cooler. One out of every one hundred dollars of all goods and services produced in the United States in 2011 was due to hunting, fishing, and wildlife-associated recreation. Those numbers come from a preliminary report issued by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which estimates that roughly 90 million citizens, or 38 percent of the population age 16 or older, spent an estimated $145 billion on… Read more »
Delbert Smith
Guest
Jennifer Lovett Your state auto license price for the wildlife does no little. If fact read your states policy. See where that money goes. Here’s an outdoor recreation stat worth breaking out at the water cooler. One out of every one hundred dollars of all goods and services produced in the United States in 2011 was due to hunting, fishing, and wildlife-associated recreation. Those numbers come from a preliminary report issued by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which estimates that roughly 90 million citizens, or 38 percent of the population age 16 or older, spent an estimated $145… Read more »
Delbert Smith
Guest
Jennifer Lovett Bobcat and Lynx are not close is size. You are not a conservation bioligist, Your title should be truthful in using the wording Preservation. Now it is clear that if a trapline is not checked every 24 hours, yes animal could die in traps but it is not from being trapped it is from and by larger predators. I don't think you have met many trappers. Because your assessment is totally wrong. Beavers are nuisance animals, plus the are a very low fat meat, tender too. Again you miss points that is totally relevant. 1. Hunters, fishermen and… Read more »
Susan Frudd
Guest

It certainly should..trapping is brutal, causing terrible suffering….once again it's money orientated trapping for fur….soon there will be no animals to kill…..ban this vile practice for good.

Anyonebut-Harper
Guest

Delbert Smith – Delbert, all I can say to you is that I am glad your not my neighbour. You display nothing but ignorance when it comes to the facts about killing, traping animals. You are trying to rationalize your need to kill and trap, and it will not work on me.

Janet Thew
Guest

Delbert Smith Boy are you misinformed. Wildlife Services, the taxpayer program that kills our wildlife at the behest of ranchers, regularly uses poisoned baits and collars to kill coyotes. You are also naive if you think trappers obey the 24 hour rule. And you're wrong about beavers drowning in a few minutes. It can take up to 20 minutes. Twenty minutes of panic and suffering. That's what you cause, Delbert. How on earth do you live with yourself?

Brian Boyle
Guest

Helllllo! It's 2016. No body who is anybody wears fur anymore. It's gross.

Simon Rimmer
Guest

Delbert Smith trophy hunters do not have any compassion for animals, and the conservation aspect of trophy hunting is bullshit, all they want is to kill so they can put a head on their wall. It's not just a coincidence that serial killers and hunters keep trophies, they come from the same sick mentality. If they really believed in conservation, they would take a picture of the animal and hang that on the wall, and give the money to the needy people.

Simon Rimmer
Guest

All trapping and snaring of any animal needs to be banned. Trapping and snaring is cruel and barbaric, also innocent animals are caught and suffer needlessly.

Ana Carneiro
Guest

Capitalistas,sangunários!!!

Carole Fraser
Guest

Absolutely shocking cruelty leave these beautiful animals alone free to roam in the wild brutal scum bags.

Ber Gear
Guest

"humane"??? You really think KILLING ANY CREATURE can be done in a "humane fashion"???
Ok then–come here and let me HUMANE-LY DISPOSE OF YOU..??–"no"??–BUT WHY NOT?? I'll do it humanely.

Bruce Thompson
Guest

In the end it comes down to whether an individual believes a being more important dead purely for "sport" or financial gain, or alive to play a time honored role arguably more important than our own in the biota. All other debate is a luxury in rationalization or distraction.

Jennifer Lovett
Guest

Delbert Smith Wild native animals should not be pets. And many colonies of prairie dogs are poisoned soley to make room for developments—malls in particular.

Jennifer Lovett
Guest
Delbert Smith I do not know where you live but in many states, Idaho for one, there is an allowance of up to 72 hours for checking traps. Here in VT, there have been 22 protected American Martens killed in the past year or so, 2 Bald Eagles so far this year (also endangered), 24 domenstic dogs maimed, and countless cats, among other species not reported. Trappers are not mandated to report so there is no way of knowing the actual number, obviously far greater. I am a conservation biologist who studies beavers. I could provide dozens of scientific resources… Read more »
Jennifer Lovett
Guest

Delbert Smith What is compassionate about coyote killing contests, drowning beavers, conibear traps, or beating a traumatized animal to death with a stick after it has been left for hours or days exposed to the elements and predators. Trappers admit freely that they enjoy torturing animals and have no respect for wildlife. It is sadistis and totally inhaumane. It is also a totaol waste of time to argue with a trapper becsue they have no factual argument to support their animal abuse.

Jennifer Lovett
Guest
Delbert Smith You are so uninformed it is scary. Poisons are widely used in the west to kill off colonies of prairie dogs, an important keystone species. Poison is also used on coyotes and rodents. It is a problem for raptors who can be killed by consuming poisoned rodents or carrion.Many of us pay for conservation plates for our vehicles–a fee that is equal to a trappers license here in Vermont. I also pay fees to F&W by posting my land annually. The fact that you buy hunting equipment and licenses does not give you more ownership over wild life… Read more »
Delbert Smith
Guest

Jennifer Lovett Also, the only legal poison is carbon monoxide.

Delbert Smith
Guest

Jennifer Lovett Coyotes are not posioned because of the fact no single kill poison has been produced. Prairie dogs while cute carry Two zoonotic diseases that naturally occur in wild prairie dogs are tularemia and plague. Epizootics of both of these diseases have occurred in recently captured prairie dogs intended for the pet trade. The lot containing prairie dogs with tularemia was widely distributed within the United States and internationally before the disease was recognized. Recently, prairie dogs intended for the pet trade were exposed to monkeypox.

Delbert Smith
Guest

Totally wrong abot compassion, hunters trapper and fisherman have total compassion for wildlife. It is those people who pay the taxes to support the wildlife.

A boat has a 13% tax paid at the manufactors level to support fish and firearms and traps baits etc. have a excise tax of 11% paid at manufactors level.

Delbert Smith
Guest

Your taxes do nothing for wildlife. Unless you buy hunting and fishing gear nothing you pay goes to manage wildlife.
Pittman–Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act …
Dingell-Johnson Federal Aid in fisheries study and restoration.

Posions are not allowed in the USA.

Delbert Smith
Guest
Jennifer Lovett Once again you are wrong. Almost every state requires traps to be checked every 24 hours. Trapping is not the threat, loss of habitat may be, but in those areas trapping has become very retricted. I read studies, real studies! When you read real census studies you find the bobcat at much higher population levels. I live the life and use scent sticks to find areas to trap in. Trappers dont trap where there is a low population. Bobcats are predators. Non target animals caught in areas are released 99% of the time without injury. Plus there you… Read more »
Grace M Yoxon
Guest

It is not just the "target" species which are being killed. Otters are being caught in beaver traps regularly. 2 were caught in Indiana within 10 days in November last year. Most states have no idea how many "incidental" catches there are, especially as so many won't be reported.

Joyce Stueker Wagner
Guest

Yes!!!!

Debriana Suzastasia Millbright-Kaur
Guest

Ban ALL animal abuse!!! Ban ALL animal cruelty!!! Go Vegan!!! Go Cruelty-Free!!! Animals have the right to live without humans exploitation of them!!! Ban ALL exploitation of animals!!!

Nancy Peak Schweiker
Guest

Yes

Jennifer Lovett
Guest

Delbert Smith Not true! Prairie dogs and coyoutes are routinely poisoned "legally".

Jennifer Lovett
Guest
You could not be more wrong in your evaluation of bobcat and beavers. Domestic cats are the number one killers of migratory birds, not bobcats. Bobcats are an important predator who control the rodnet population and have little interaction with humans. In many plaes they are threatened by loss of habitat and trapping. There is absolutley no reason to trap beavers and if you think drowning is humane, you are insane. Leg hold traps are responsible for the deaths of millions of non-target animals, including protected species as well as domestic pets. Being held in a metal trap for up… Read more »
Paul Schmidtlein
Guest
Beavers are keystone species and provide $120,000 in environmental services to the taxpayers for free when alive. Their pelts and castorum are not even worth $50 combined when a beaver is killed. So it doesn't take a mathmatician to figure out yes beavers should not be trapped. Bobcats are not a keystone species but they provide the environmental service of rodent control which is organic and doesn't use poisons to do the job and once again the animal provides this service for free to the taxpayers. So trapping is not only cruel to the animals it is a ripoff to… Read more »
Gill Bestall
Guest

It's wrong! Every living thing had an impact on the eco system! Only humans feel they have a right to kill!

Delbert Smith
Guest

Poisoning is banned, it is poachers that poison, get your facts correct!

Delbert Smith
Guest
Traps really don't hurt that bad, i have been caught while setting them. If you don't control the predators the other animals will not have a chance after several years. One of the number one predators of small song birds and insectivorous birds is cat, most of you anti-hunters could not tell a house cat from a bobcat. I call and trap bobcats and still on my small farm 27 acts I catch 10-15 bobcats every year, and I don't catch other animals, reason being is I set for Bobcats…. and the same with beaver a beaver set is not… Read more »
Genevieve Esson Art
Guest

Yes, of course. People need to respect the rights of animals. We share this planet. Not own it. How difficult is this to realize? Respect. People need to be mindful of boundaries. These animals need a place to roam and run free.We need to save what is left of our planet. If we don't humanity will not be saved either. It's not rocket science. We have a brain, let's use it. Thank you.

Anne Clarke
Guest

The barbaric acts of trapping…snaring and poisoning ALL need to be banned EVERYWHERE FOREVER!!!!!

Jennifer Lovett
Guest
Of course trapping of beavers and bobcat should be banned. There is no basis for killing these animals–economic, environmental, or moral. Trapping is an obsolete and incredibly inhumane sport and nothing more than that. Beavers are a keystone species, extrememly important to the survival of hundreds of other species, and are capable of mitigating the effects of climate change. They do not overpopulate and self-regulate their reproductive rate according to their available food supply. They are easily managed through many humane devices. Bobcats are a top predator who are threatened or endangered in many places and need to be protected.… Read more »
Steve Gent
Guest

All trapping with these awful methods MUST be banned, not should. Animals suffer terribly. It is barbaric.

Ralph Leimgruber
Guest

Fallenstellen ist dumm, grausam und völlig unnötig. An die Grausamkeiten die diesen Wesen angetan werden denken die Pelzträger nicht. Nur hirnlose ignorante Zeitgenossen ohne Mitgefühl, tragen Felle und Pelze.

Linda French
Guest

Disgusting, cruel, and not needed. The trappers show no compassion. Shows how just ignorant, cruel humans can be.

Leigh Lofgren
Guest

Ban all trapping and hunting anywhere,everywhere….such sickness in mankind

Karen Lyons Kalmenson
Guest

ban all trapping and hunting of any kind, period!!!!!

Maria Manuela Lopes
Guest

Disgusting

Darren Jessup
Guest

I keep getting that at times !

Yvonne Olausson
Guest

Yes

Theresa Kemp
Guest

Sorry for the nagativity here but why do I still keep having to clear the 'subscribe to our newsletter' post by clicking 'never see this again' to be able to read the newsletter that I have already subscribed to?

Lynn Ledgerwood
Guest

Yes it should be banned….barbaric…..

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