- This article refers to animal trapping. For the prepress/printing technique called trapping, refer to the article Spreading and choking.
The human activity of animal trapping
has two separate but related meanings. Firstly, it describes the hunting
of animal to obtain their furs
, which are then used for clothes and other artifacts, or sold / bartered
(see fur trade). Such trappers may often, but not exclusively, use traps to catch their prey; hence the name of the activity and its practitioners. Secondly, trapping
relates to the use of traps to catch animals for a variety of other purposes, most usually for food or pest control
other animals for food is also practiced by some animals, for example, the funnel web spider traps its prey.
Animal trapping is perhaps one of the first methods of hunting. It requires less time and energy than most other methods, and can give a very good result, if not quite as fast. It is also comparably safer for the hunter. However, in modern times it has become controversial for being unsporting and for being inhumane.
200,000 years ago, in the Lower Paleolithic period, traps were used by central European people to hunt mammoths.
In 1590, jaw traps started being used in England to catch poachers hunting on private land, thus this was why land was posted with signs warning people not to trespass.
The mouse trap, with a strong spring mounted on a wooden base, was patented in 1910 by James Henry Atkinson, a trap maker from Leeds, England.
Trapping was one of the main economical forces in the early days of North American settlements (such as the Canadian Fur Brigade). Native Americans trapped fur bearing animals with pits and dead falls. A dead fall is a heavy rock or log that is tilted on an angle and held up with branches, one of them that serves as a trigger. When the animal moves the trigger which may have bait on it, the rock or log falls killing the animal. Early trappers in America were the first to travel across the plains and into the Rocky Mountains in search of fur. They used steel leg hold traps as well as snares and dead falls. Beaver was one of the main animals of interest to the trappers as the fur wore well in coats and hats. Beaver hats became popular in the early 1800's but by 1840 the beaver were wiped out. Trappers then turned to buffalo hunting or serving as scouts for the army or leading wagon trains to California and other parts of the west.
Even today, many people rely on traps to remove smaller animals, such as mice.
Today most of the traps used can be easily divided into four types: body gripping traps, snares, foothold traps, and cages. There are also a number of traditional designs.
Body gripping/crushing traps
The body gripping traps are traps made to kill the animal caught. They are frequently called "Conibear" traps after Frank Conibear from Canada who first came up with this type of trap, but even a simple mousetrap is one. The animal must be lured with a bait or guided into the correct position before the trap is triggered. The trap is usually built to strike at the back of the neck or behind the shoulders of the targeted animal and snap the spine. Humane organizations criticize the trap for causing prolonged death. There has been quite a lot of research to create traps that can be made more humanely. In Canada, Body Gripping traps have been tested and certified to meet requirements set out by the European Union for more humane traps. In fact, many have far surpassed the strict guidelines, making Canada the World leader in Humane Trap Standards. Among the proposed constructions are a box in which taking the bait actually triggers the trap and crushes the animal against the bottom of the box. Most (if not all) of these traps rely on blunt trauma so to not damage the animal's pelt.
Snares are typically represented graphically as a rope tied to a tree branch coming down to form a circle on the ground.
Snares are one of the simplest and are claimed to be one of the most effective traps (although opponents say that many non-target animals are caught). Made of high quality cable, they are cheap to produce and easy to set in large numbers. A snare works more or less like the leash for a dog, except that as the animal struggles, the snare tightens around the animal, choking it. Snares can also be made to relax once an animal quits pulling, thereby allowing the trapper to decide whether to harvest the animal or release it. Some scientists believe that released animals should be taken to a vet rather than released because pressure necrosis
may have caused hidden injury to the animal.
Foothold traps or Leghold traps
Probably most commonly associated with trapping, the foothold/leghold trap has been banned in most countries and in eight U.S. states (Washington, California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Arizona, New Jersey, Florida, and Rhode Island) for its perceived cruelty. Trappers prefer the term "foothold trap," though this alternative has yet to achieve significant use by the general public. The leghold/foothold trap is made up of two jaws, a spring of some sort, and a trigger in the middle. When the animal steps on the trigger the trap closes around the foot, preventing the animal from escaping. Usually some kind of lure is used to position the animal, or the trap is set on an animal trail.The traps are often criticized for being indiscriminate, and non-target animals are sometimes caught in these traps, including dogs, cats, and endangered species. Trappers respond that a trapper knowledgeable about his/her target animal can set them so as to reduce the chances of other animals getting caught. Due to the fact that the foothold/leghold trap is a type of "live catch" trap, any "non target" animals caught can be released. Humane organizations criticize leghold traps for breaking animals' legs and leaving them in extreme pain often for prolonged periods of time. Trappers claim that these traps need not break animals' legs if used properly. Traditionally, these traps had tightly closing "teeth" to make sure the animal stayed in place. Modern trappers have found that steel traps with thick smooth jaws are as effective. Leghold/Foothold traps set for beaver, mink, river otter, and muskrat are positioned in shallow water along the shores and banks of rivers, lakes and ponds. The trap is attached to a weight sunk in deeper water. The animal, when caught by the foot, tries to escape by diving into deep water and drowns. More modern traps have a gap called an "offset jaw" or a padded jaw.
Cage traps are live cages; they are usually baited, sometimes with dead bait and sometimes with a live "lure" animal. Cage traps usually have a trigger that is located in the back of the cage and it triggers a door to shut, preventing the animal from escaping. Supporters of cage traps say that they are the most humane form of trapping; they are also occasionally the only form of trapping a country may allow. However, animal welfare
supporters say that being caught in small cages for long periods of time can cause mental suffering to both the "lure" and trapped animal. Cage traps are used by animal control officers to catch unwanted animals and move them to another location without harm, as well as by gamekeepers to kill birds and animals that they believe are pests.
The environmental effect of trapping is only partially understood. Many species have been trapped (in combination with hunting) to extinction from large areas. Today trapping is more closely regulated in the western countries, but remains unregulated in many areas outside America and Europe. Trapping is regularly used to significantly lower the population of local mammals, most commonly Beaver, Coyote, Raccoon
and Fox. This is usually done to limit damage to farming, increase the populations of birds and deer that are popular to hunt, and control diseases which are not only harmful to wildlife but to humans as well. Examples include rabies, mange, and tularemia
. One significant aspect of trapping which is often glossed over by those opposed to it, is the usefulness of trapping for research and relocation of wildlife. 
One of the hardest problems with trapping is unwanted catches. Skilled trappers can limit this problem, but it is never completely gone. Catching unintended animals may only be a problem for the trapper, but when people's pets or endangered animals are caught, trappers can be in a world of trouble. Unwanted catching is one of the most common reasons for outlawing trapping, together with animal protection. For this reason it is important for inexperienced trappers to educate themselves on proper methods to avoid unintended catches. It is also important for pet owners to be responsible for their pets. Trappers are restricted by seasons, distance that they may set from a house or roadway, sizes of traps they may use etc. They are responsible for knowing the regulations. Pet owners should also make themselves aware of season dates and not let their pets run loose in the woods during the trapping seasons.
There has been much debate over the animal protection aspects of trapping. On one side are the trappers, claiming trapping is humane compared to natural population controls such as disease and starvation. On the other side are the animal welfare
activists who say that trapping is cruel. The fact that most of the animals trapped are also traditionally "likeable" animals is not scientifically relevant, but may have increased the impact of animal welfare groups' campaigns to ban trapping.
(O. Eng. treppe
properly a step, as that or which an animal places its foot and is caught, cf. Ger. Treppe
flight of stairs), a mechanical device for the snaring or catching anything, and especially wild animals. Traps for animals are of great antiquity, and no savage people has ever been discovered, whatever its culture scale, that did not possess some variety of snare. In the most primitive form of trap no mechanism need be present, e.g. a cavity into which the animal walks, as the pitfall of the Arabs
and Africans or the snow-hole of the Inuit. Dr O. T. Mason has divided traps into three classes: enclosing traps, which imprison the victim without injury; arresting traps, which seize the victim without killing it, unless it be caught by the neck or round the lungs; and killing traps, which crush, pierce or cut to death.
Enclosing traps include the pen, cage, pit and door-traps. Pentraps are represented by the fences built in Africa into which antelopes and other animals are driven: and by fish
-seines and poundnets. Among cage-traps may be mentioned bird
-cones filled with cern and smeared with bird-lime, which adhere to the bird's head, blinding it and rendering its capture easy; the fish-trap and lobster
-pot; and the coop-traps, of which the turkey-trap is an example. This consists of a roofed ditch ending in a cul-de-sac into which the bird is led by a row of corn-kernels. Over the further end a kind of coop is built; the bird, instead of endeavouring to retrace its steps, always seeks to escape upward and remains cooped. Pitfalls include not only those dug in the earth, at the bottom of which knives and spears are often fixed, but also several kinds of traps for small animals. One of these consists of a box near the top of which a platform is hung, in such a way that, when the animal leaps upon it to secure the bait, it is precipitated into the bottom of the box, while the platform swings back into place. Another kind of pitfall is formed of a sort of funnel of long poles, into which birds fall upon alighting on a perfectly balanced bar, to which a dish of corn is made fast. The door-traps form a large and varied class, ranging in size from the immense cage with sliding door in which such beasts as tigers are caught, to the common box-trap for mice or squirrels, the door of which falls when the spindle upon which the bait is fixed is moved. The box-trap with a simple ratchet door, allowing the animal or bird to push under the door or wires which fall back and imprison them, is alike an enclosing and an arresting trap.
There are four general classes of arresting traps, the mesh, the set-hook, the noose and the clutch. The mesh-traps include the mesh and thong toils used of old for the capture of the lion and other large game, and the gill-net in the meshes of which fish are caught by the gills
. To the set-hook division are reckoned the set-lines of the angler, several kinds of trawls and the toggle or gorge attached to a line, which the animal, bird or fish swallows only to be held prisoner. The noose-trap class is a very extensive one. The simplest examples are the common slip-noose snares of twine, wire or horsehair, set for birds or small mammals either on their feeding grounds or runways, the victim being caught by the neck, body or foot as it tries to push through the noose. When the noose is used with bait it is generally attached to a stout sapling, which is bent over and kept from springing back by some device of the "figure-4" kind. This is constructed of three pieces of wood, one of the horizontal spindle on which the bait is placed, one of the upright driven into the ground, and the third the connecting cross-piece, fitted to the others so loosely that only the strain of the elastic sapling keeps the trap together. When the victim tries to secure the bait he dislodges the cross-piece and is caught by the noose, which is spread on the ground under the bait. The Patagonians take the vicuna with one variety of this snare, and, before the moose (Cervus alces) was protected by law in North America, even that animal, weighing often 1,200 lb (600 kg), was caught in snares of wire and rope. There are two widely different types of clutchtraps: bird-lime and other tenacious substances, and jaw and claptraps. The simplest form of the first is adhesive fly-paper. A common practice in Italy is to smear with bird-lime the branches in the neighbourhood of a captive owl, which results in the capture of numbers of birds, gathered to scold at their common enemy. Examples of the clap-trap are the clap-net, consisting of two nets laid flat on the ground and attached to cords in such a manner that they fly up and close when the draw-cord is pulled by a concealed trapper; and the various other spring-traps used by bird-catchers.
The jaw-traps are the most important class of device for the capture of fur-bearing animals, and are the product of civilization. While rude specimens are known to have existed in the middle ages, the steel-trap as used to-day dates from the middle of the 18th century, and reached perfection in the latter half of the 19th, the "Newhouse," named from the American inventor, having been the first trap of high grade. Steel-traps consist of two jaws, with or without teeth, which are worked by powerful single or double springs and are "sprung" when the victim steps upon the "pan," which is placed between the jaws and attached to a lever. They are made in many sizes, from the smallest, designed for rats
, to the "Great Bear Tamer," weighing over 40 lb (20 kg), with jaws of 16 in. in which lion, tigers and grizzly bears are trapped. The steel-trap is set and concealed in such a manner that the animal must step on its pan in passing over it to secure the bait. In trapping such wary animals as the sable, marten, mink, otter or beaver, great care is taken to obliterate all signs of the trap and of human presence, the scent of the hands being neutralized by smoking the traps or avoided by the use of gloves. In North America castoreum
, asafoetida, oil of anise and common fish oil are used to entice the victims to the traps. Trails of some one of these scents are laid from different directions to the trap.
With the clutch-traps must also be reckoned the oldest form of steel-trap, now to be seen only in museums, the man-trap, which was used first about the middle of the 18th century when the systematic preservation of game rendered protection against poachers a necessity. Such a trap, from Gloucestershire, is over 6 ft (2 m) long, has 19 in (500 mm) serrated jaws and weighs 88 lb (40 kg). Another form of man-trap, the spring-gun, belongs to the next category, the killing traps, which are divided into traps of weight, point and edge. The most important of the weight class is the dead-fall, of which the typical form consists of a pen over whose narrow entrance one or more logs are laid across a lighter log, which is balanced upon a spindle necessarily struck by the entering animal, causing the logs to fall upon its back. In some cases the bait is attached to the spindle itself. The dead-fall was always the favourite trap of the American Indians
, and is in use among many aboriginal tribes in Africa and South America. A slab of stone is often used as a weight. The common mouse-trap which kills either by a blow or strangulation is a variety of dead-fall. Of point-traps may be mentioned those of the impaling and the missile classes. An example of the former is the stake or spear placed by Arab and African tribes at the bottom of pitfalls for big game. Another impaling trap common in Africa is the harpoon down-fall, generally used for the hippopotamus. It consists of a heavily weighted harpoon suspended in such a way that the animal, passing beneath, breaks a cord and precipitates the harpoon upon itself. Another example of impalement is the hawk-trap, consisting of a circle of stout sharp wires, in the centre of which a live fowl is placed. A bird of prey attempting to secure the fowl is impaled upon the wires. Of missile traps the most universal are the ancient springbow and its modern representative the spring-gun. This is fixed upon stakes, or against a tree, with a line attached to the trigger and stretched immediately in front of the muzzle. An animal pressing against the string pulls the trigger and discharges the piece into its own body. An arrangement of sticks holding the bait in front of the muzzle is sometimes substituted for the string. Of edge-traps a curious example is the wolf-knife of Western America, which consists of a very sharp blade embedded in frozen fat. One of the wolves, licking the fat, cuts its tongue and a flow of blood ensues, with the result that not only the wolf itself but its companions become infuriated by the smell and taste, and the wounded beast, and often many of the others, are killed and devoured. The Alaskan knife-trap for large game consists of a heavy blade attached to a lever, which, when released by the animal biting at the bait, flies over and kills the victim.