Conservation and Trapping Science

Newspaper: Trapping animals is a long-lived tradition that's still relevant today
May 3, 2021 07:09 ET

[Reprinted from original]

In our country, Native Americans were the first trappers. They were skilled at knowing the habits of animals.

Animals were captured for essentials such as nourishment and clothing. Bones were used for arrows, fish hooks and sewing needles. Teeth and claws were assembled into decorative or symbolic jewelry. Bear claws signified endurance.

These primitive trappers tried to reduce suffering. Pits were dug, sometimes lined with stones, and covered with lattice work and brush. The baited deadfalls involved logs or rocks that, when activated, fell and crushed the animals. Snares consisted of throat or body nooses constructed of plant-based cordage suspended from branches along trails or cave entrances. Fish were netted or funneled through rock weirs into baskets. These traditional methods are still applicable.

The lives of our indigenous people were transformed when the establishment of European colonies in North America created a demand for furs from lynx, mink, otter and beaver, especially. The American beaver filled the demand for the near-extinct European beaver, overused for the esteemed top hat.

Native people traded furs and shared expertise with European trappers and mountain men. These men sometimes married Native American women for networking purposes. Their trails paved the way across America. For example, trappers and traders crossed the Great Plains through the Rocky Mountains by foot or horseback on what became the Oregon Trail.

Settler trading posts, which also served as forts, enabled Native Americans to trade furs for items that simplified life, such as yard goods, guns and ammunition, pots and knives. Some post settlements eventually expanded into cities — Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, New York and St. Louis, a city often referred to as the Gateway to the West.

The demand for fur lasted until the mid-1800s. Eventually, the influx of settlers imperiled Native Americans.

Today, trapping remains active. Various reasons include researching fish migration, controlling barnyard predators like fox or bobcats, supplying the pet and fashion industries, or simply trapping for sport.

Sadly, non-targeted animals are at risk, such as pets and endangered species. For example, in this country, the endangered Mexican gray wolves encounter steel-jaw leghold traps.

Many other traps are controversial. Body-gripping traps are huge versions of mouse traps, but at least kill quickly. Snares involve rigid steel cables around necks or bodies. Glue traps might leave smaller animals (birds, snakes, lizards) to struggle and slowly die. Humane apparatus should be utilized. Cages, nets or weirs, deliver less trauma.

In the Florida Everglades, humane trapping is employed to eliminate the invasive pythons decimating the fauna. Successful are cages baited with pheromones to attract mates.

Another method is to implant radio transmitters in pythons. Tracking might occur by plane. Breeding groups are uncovered in habitats such as gopher tortoise burrows.

Whether a trapping endeavor involves wildlife management or a business venture, the welfare of the animal is paramount.