Each year, millions of wild animals are caught and killed for their fur using wire snares and body gripping, foothold, and leghold traps. Animals commonly trapped in the wild include coyotes, bobcats, lynxes, foxes, beavers, raccoons, muskrats, and martens. Traps injure and kill countless numbers of “non-targeted” animals too, which trappers refer to as “trash.” These victims are dogs and cats, mountain lions, deer, birds, and other animals—including threatened and endangered animals.
North America (namely the U.S. and Canada) take the lead, followed by Russia, for the largest number of wild animals killed for the fur trade, with around half of all fur pelts “produced” in North America taken from wild animals. In the U.S. trapping takes place on private and public lands, including protected lands and recreational areas.
Although animals trapped in the wild account for roughly 5% of furs used in the global fur trade, the methods used to catch and kill them are horrific and brutal. Wire noose snares can crush organs or slowly strangle an animal to death. Body gripping traps can trap animals underwater until they slowly drown. Animals caught in leghold traps try to chew or twist off their trapped limb in a desperate attempt to free themselves.
More than 100 countries have banned the use of leghold traps due to the extreme suffering and pain they cause to animals. In the U.S., however, leghold traps are still one of the most commonly used traps by commercial and recreational fur trappers.
Stuck in traps, animals can die of exhaustion, exposure, predation, starvation, dehydration, shock, drowning, injury or blood loss. Animals that manage to stay alive until being found are often brutally killed through drowning, suffocation, beatings or have their chest crushed by a foot or knee.
Laws and Regulations
In the U.S., the number of wild animals trapped for their fur is poorly regulated and often managed without proper regard to animal welfare or population numbers. In 2015, over 65,000 wild bobcats were killed and exported outside the U.S.– this is a dramatic increase from a little over 16,000 killed in 2011. In Canada, over 800,000 wild animal skins were available for sale in 2015; this included over 100,00 coyotes who were killed for their increased use in fur-trimmed coats and other winter wear.
Like fur farms, which fall under the jurisdiction of individual state agricultural departments, trapping is largely governed by the states. This results in vast discrepancies in laws and regulations among the different states. While some like California, Colorado, Hawaii, and Washington have humane regulations in place regarding trapping, a majority of states don’t, and their weak regulations allow trappers to simply regulate themselves.
Poor regulations and lack of required reporting is also a cause of concern for sensitive species that are already threatened or at risk due to low population numbers. Depending on their economic value, population numbers of sensitive species in certain states are often inflated to allow for more trapping, putting animals like bobcats, river otters, wolverines, lynxes, fishers, martens, kit foxes, and even bears at greater risk of extinction.
Undercover investigations have shown that the practice of letting the industry regulate itself, as often seen with farm animals and factory farming, leads to uncontrolled and perpetual cruelty. This includes trappers blatantly ignoring rules, use of illegal traps or snares, cruel killing methods, disregard of timeframes for checking traps – leaving many animals in agony for days – underreporting the number of animals and species killed, trapping animals during non-hunting season, and failing to report the number of non-target animals killed. All of this makes the likelihood of the total number of animals reported, both targeted and non-targeted, likely far below the actual number of animals killed.
Fur Free Fashion
The safest and most compassionate choice a consumer can make is to avoid fur completely and to support fashion brands that have taken a stand to no longer support the cruel industry. Brands that support not using fur include Gucci, Hugo Boss, Armani, and the VF Corporation, which owns nearly 30 fashion brands such as The North Face, Vans, Timberland, Lee, and Dickies. Consumers also support these changes. For instance, in a 2017 survey of Massachusetts residents, 64% supported a state-wide ban on the sale of clothing that contained animal fur.