TIME TO STOP TRAPPING “FURBEARERS”: PROMOTE ONE HEALTH-FOCUSED WILDLIFE STEWARDSHIP
By Dr. Michael W. Fox
Trapping animals for the global fur trade is still alive and well, non-target species often being caught in the process. Selling trapper licenses provides states with extra revenue and the demand for fur perpetuates the wildlife management policy of “managed, sustainable harvesting”.
The Center for Biological Diversity has to file a lawsuit over Minnesota’s trapping regulations to better protect lynx from dying in traps set for other animals. While the Bobcat, Marten, Fisher and Otter are “registered” furbearers, the numbers killed being monitored by the MN Department of Natural Resources, (MN DNR) the red fox is not. According to the MN DNR website “The red fox is the most common predator in the state. Hunters and trappers harvest up to 100,000 each year, but the fox population remains strong. A disease called sarcoptic mange sometimes kills thousands of red foxes. Red foxes compete for space with coyotes, which will kill foxes.”
The extermination of wolves across the U.S. who generally live amicably as sympatric commensals with foxes and other small carnivores but attack and drive off coyotes and free-roaming dogs has enabled coyotes to expand their range into many states (where there are no seasonal restrictions on hunting and trapping them).
Coyotes suffer being trapped for their fur and are subjected to cruel methods of predator extermination documented by Project Coyote. This organization, along with other conservation and animal protection organizations, has succeeded in stopping coyote killing contests and setting dogs onto caged coyotes in some states, but these activities that continue in several other states.( www.projectcoyote.org).
Lynx protection aside, this wholesale killing of furbearing carnivores should end. Traps and snares are cruel, causing pain and terror to those animals who are caught. These carnivores help control Lyme disease, now infecting thousands of people and their dogs across many states, by controlling mice and other small rodents that harbor this and other tick-borne diseases. An estimated 30,000 people are infected annually by Lyme disease and the numbers are increasing.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “Climate is just one of many important factors that influence the transmission, distribution, and incidence of Lyme disease. Other factors that affect the number of Lyme disease cases include changes in the populations of host species (particularly deer), which affect tick population size. The percentage of ticks that are infected depends on the prevalence and infection rates of white-footed mice and certain other hosts.” High deer numbers in many states are encouraged by deer hunting organizations that also advocate hunting and trapping of wolves that are seen as competitors, and by property owners planting feed for deer.
This is further evidence that wildlife and habitat management practices should not be dictated by the trapping and hunting industries or jeopardized by the timber, livestock and mining industries. A One Health approach is called for which embraces the science and bioethics of public, animal and environmental health, all of which depend on conserving, protecting and restoring natural biodiversity. The diversity of indigenous animal and plant species in healthy ecosystems help contain several diseases transmissible to humans and prevent colonization by invasive species.
As a long-time advocate of One Health, as per my 2011 book Healing Animals and the Vision of One Health, I am very encouraged that a provision directing the development of a One Health Framework across the federal government was included in the final 2022 spending bill of the year. With passage, Congress will now direct federal agencies to develop and submit a national One Health Framework to collaboratively address zoonotic diseases and advance public health preparedness. Considering the political influence of the hunting, trapping and related fur industries including fur farms, significant progress will be limited until all commercial trapping and captive-raising of furbearers is prohibited across the U.S.
In September 2019, California became the first state in the US to ban trapping for commercial and recreational purpose. Over 85 countries, including the EU and China, have prohibited the use of the steel-jaw leghold trap. Also, several countries have banned fur farms for public health reasons since mink have developed COVID-19 infections from infected workers and have passed the disease on to other workers; foxes and other furbearers are also susceptible to this zoonotic disease.