In addition to those kept in captivity in factory farms for their furs, every year millions of animals are killed in the wild for this purpose. There are various ways that animals are trapped and hunted for their fur. Most lead to slow, agonizing deaths.
Millions of animals die every year, victims of the traps used to catch them for their fur. Coyotes, wolves, raccoons, ermines, otters, beavers, lynxes, pine martens and minks are some of the animals targeted by these traps. Most of them are trapped in the USA, where it is estimated that every year around five million animals are captured and killed this way.1 Millions more die in other countries, though complete statistics are not available. Trapped animals suffer not only the pain caused by the traps, but also terrible psychological distress. Many trapped animals develop capture myopathy (also known as white muscle disease), which results from severe stress due to overuse of muscles use in extreme conditions. It causes the destruction of muscle and can even lead to death.2
The anxiety felt by the animals when they try to escape is also indicated by the injuries they often sustain while they struggle to be set free. An example is the harm done to their jaws from desperately biting the metal of the trap.
In many cases, the traps are left underwater and restrain the animals until they drown. The animals trapped in them, such as minks, beavers or muskrats, struggle in terror to avoid the terrible experience of drowning. They thrash around violently for several minutes. It can take beavers almost 15 minutes for them to die from drowning.3
There is little control over the traps that are placed in the wild, so animals of any species are susceptible of falling on them. Ungulates, eagles, dogs, and domesticated cats are frequently unintended victims.
There are different types of traps, some of which are meant to kill the animals and others to restrain them until the trapper arrives. The animals who can’t escape from the traps will be stuck there until they die of starvation, suffocation, blood loss, predation by other animals, or until they are found and killed by the trapper.
A common way to kill an animal found in a trap is to immobilize their head, usually by stepping on their neck or head with one foot, and pressing their chest with the other for several minutes until they suffocate. In this way, the valued fur of the animal is not damaged.
Some of the most common types of traps are the following:
Trapping pits are deep pits dug in the earth that animals fall into and can’t get out of. Sometimes the pits are empty and trappers take the animals out alive, and sometimes the bottom of the pits are flooded so the animals drown and die.
Trap cages are used to capture animals while making sure they suffer no visible harm so the economic value of their fur is not reduced.
The roof of these cages can be covered with a metal net, metal planks, plastic, wood or even trunks. This is so the animals will be protected against the weather while they are captive there. For this reason, these cages are considered to be a “less cruel” method of capturing animals, but only because trap cages are being compared to other terrible ways of trapping animals. This form of trapping also causes much anxiety to the animals who panic when they are unable to escape and who eventually end up being painfully deprived of their lives. Animals are attracted to the traps by the use of baits, which can either be processed food or live animals who, since they cannot flee or defend themselves, will be devoured without any chance to escape.
In cages with just one door, the bait is put in the back of the cage where is a trigger that will shut the door and seal the cage. In traps with two doors, the trigger and baits are located in the center of the cage.
These are the most widely used trap and has several different variants. These traps consist of a structure composed of two steel “jaws” that are left open at a 180º angle and which close quickly over animals’ limb as soon as they touches the trigger. The animals who fall prey to one of these traps suffer bone fracture and have their muscles, ligaments and skin torn. They fight to try to free themselves and can even bite their own limb in the process. Despite the pain, destroying their own leg is the only chance they have to escape, although once free they will most likely die due to bleeding or infection. An infected limb can develop necrosis in about half an hour, which can quickly evolve into gangrene.
These traps have been prohibited in almost a hundred countries. In 1995 their use was prohibited in 15 countries of the European Union.
These traps are designed to kill animals who fall on them. These are body-gripping traps which have a metal structure resembling jaws that can induce suffocation or break the necks or backs of animals who fall on them. The deaths are often slow and agonizing.
Traps are located vertically so that when the trap is activated, the animals has their head or whole body in it rather than just a leg as in leghold traps. They are usually located on the way in to lairs or in their proximity.
It is extremely unlikely that an animal will survive a conibear trap. The mechanism of the trap makes it virtually impossible for the animal to escape and, even if they are rescued, the injuries are lethal in most cases.
Snares are wires that are located on the ground, usually tied to a branch or a tree. When animals steps where the snares are stretched, the snares trap the animals by their neck or body and lifts them into the air. This causes the animals to suffer a slow death by suffocation. In addition to the intended victims, it is estimated that between 21% and 69% of the trapped animals are discarded since they are not desirable to the fur industry.5
Though most animals whose fur is used are trapped or farmed, some, such as seals, are hunted. Several products are obtained from the corpses of seals,6 but fur is the main one. The commercial hunting season of harp seals, grey seals and hooded seals lasts from November 15th to May 15th. This activity occurs mainly in Canada, Greenland, Russia and Norway, as well as in other places such as southern Africa.7
Most of the hunt takes place during the breeding season: at the end of March in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and during the first or second week of April in the North East of Terranova. During this period, the youngest seals spend all their time on top of ice, where they are very vulnerable as they move slowly across the ice or wait for their parents to bring food for them.
Each year hundred of thousands of seals are killed worldwide for their fur, mostly in Canada.
The seals who are hunted have lived less than a year. They are killed by being hit on their heads until their brains are crushed. It is also common for their skin to be ripped off while they are still alive.
There are two officially accepted forms of killing seals: fire guns and wooden clubs. Most hunters prefer the clubs since fire guns may cause damage to the valued seal fur. Apart from the conventional wooden clubs, there is an instrument specifically devised for this called “hakapik”. Hakapiks are wooden clubs that are shaped like a hammer on one end and a metal hook on the other. The hammer is meant to break the seal’s skull while the other end is designed to hook on to the animal’s body to drag it over the ice.
Regulations state that hunters must kill the animals before bleeding them or skinning them, but there’s really no way to verify the seals are not skinned while they are still alive and conscious. This is apart from the fact that even when regulations are followed, the animals are still deprived of their lives.
Uses and restrictions
In 2009, the European Union prohibited the commercialization of seal products (their flesh, fur, oil, organs…), except those obtained traditionally by Inuit as a form of economic subsistence (even though they have other options). The measure was backed by the majority of the members of the European Parliament, with 550 votes in favor of the ban, 49 against it and 41 abstentions.8 In February 2011, Canada appealed this measure to the World Trade Organization,9 but they lost the case.10
Despite this prohibition, in 2010 the Canadian government increased the legal hunting quota from 338,200 to 388,200 animals.11 The hunting of seals may continue despite the European ban on seal products; there is a rising demand for seal products in China and some other countries.12
Banci, V. & Proulx, G. (1999) “Resiliency of furbearers to trapping in Canada”, in Proulx, G. (ed.) Mammal trapping, Sherwood Park: Alpha Wildlife Research and Management, pp. 1-46.
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Novak, M. (1979) “The new foot-snare live trap and the leg-hold trap – a comparison”, Ontario Fish & Wildlife Review, 18, pp. 11-22.
Novak M. (1981) “The foot-snare and leg-hold traps: A comparison”, Proceedings of the Management, 36, pp. 988-991.
Nutman, A. W.; Gregory, N. G. & Warburton, B. (1998) “A comparison of the effectiveness of three neck-hold killing traps in occluding carotid arteries in the neck of the brushtail possum”, New Zealand Veterinary Journal, 46, pp. 177-181.
Papouchis, C. M. (2004) “Trapping: A review of the scientific literature. Chapter 6”, in Fox, C.H. & Papouchis, C.M. (eds.) Cull of the wild: A contemporary analysis of wildlife trapping in the United States, op. cit.
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Proulx, G. (1999) “Review of current mammal trap technology in North America”, in Proulx, G. (ed.) Mammal trapping, Sherwood Park: Alpha Wildlife Research and Management, pp. 1-46.
2 Chalmers, G. A. & Barrett, M. W. (1982) “Capture myopathy”, in Noninfectious Diseases of Wildlife, Ames: Iowa State University Press. Fowler, A. (ca. 2010) “Capture myopathy”, fourthcrossingwildlife.com [accessed on 10 October 2013]. Hartup, B. K., Kollias, G. V. & Jacobsen, M. C.; Valentine, B. A. & Kimber, K. R. (1999) “Exertional myopathy in translocated river otters from New York”, Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 35, pp. 542-547.
3 Gilbert, F. F. & Gofton, N. (1982) “Terminal dives in mink, muskrat and beaver”, Physiology & Behavior, 28, pp. 835-840. Ludders, J. W.; Schmidt, R. H.; Dein, J. & Klein, P. N. (1999) “Drowning is not euthanasia”, Wildlife Society Bulletin, 27, pp. 666-670.
4 Iossa, G.; Soulsbury, C.D. & Harris, S. (2007) “Mammal trapping: A review of animal welfare standards of killing and restraining traps”, Animal Welfare, 16, pp. 335-352.
6 Seal fat and seal oil are used as lubricants, as well as to produce soap, to tan leathers and as a base for the production of ochre red pigment—see Fisheries Heritage (2006) “Red ochre”, fisheriesheritage.ca [accessed on 29 March 2013]. Their penises are very demanded in the Asian market on the absurd belief that they have afrodisiac properties.
7 For more info see Lavigne, D. M.; Perrin, W. F.; Wursig, B. & Thewissen, J. G. M. (eds.) (2009) Encyclopedia of marine mammals, 2nd ed., Burlington: Academic Press.
8 European Parliament (2009) “MEPs adopt strict conditions for the placing on the market of seal products in the European Union”, europarl.europa.eu, 5-5-2009 [accessed on 30 June 2013].
9 Bonnell, K. & Abma, D. (2011) “Canada to challenge European Union seal ban”, Canada.com, February 11 [accessed on 25 June 2013]. BBC News (2009) “EU seal ban challenged by Canada”, BBC, 27 July [accessed on 25 June 2013].
11 Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2010) “Minister Shea increases quota for Atlantic seal harvest”, dfo-mpo.gc.ca, March 15 [accessed on 29 July 2013].
12 The demand is not only for fur, but other seal products as well. In January 2011, Canada and China signed a cooperation agreement that allows the export of edible seal products, in particular meat, oil and Omega 3 supplements. See Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2011) “Questions & Answers – Canada China Cooperative Arrangement on Exports of Edible Seal Products”, dfo-mpo.gc.ca, January 12 [accessed on 19 July 2013].