Traditional and Cultural Aspects
Before Europeans came to North America, trapping was an integral part of the Aboriginal way of life, providing food, clothing and shelter. The subsequent development of the FUR TRADE, however, profoundly altered the native economy. Trapping became an end in itself, to the point that some species were put in jeopardy. The decline in the FUR INDUSTRY over the last century and the application of a new set of values focusing on the suffering of the animals have not only caused some economic and social hardships among native groups but also seem to some people to threaten their very way of life.
Nevertheless, under the ROYAL PROCLAMATION OF 1763 (and other subsequent constitutional amendments), Aboriginal hunting, trapping and fishing rights to obtain food at all seasons of the year on unoccupied land were guaranteed and may have precedence over provincial game laws.
About 70 000 people are directly employed by the Canadian fur trade. There are roughly 60 000 active trappers in Canada, including 25 000 Aboriginal people. The number of licensed trappers varies from year to year and has ranged up to 80 000 since the mid-1990s. Many trappers hold full- or part-time jobs and engage in trapping in off-duty hours and on weekends. Commercial trapping is seasonally based because of the prime winter condition of the fur and because of provincial, territorial and federal trapping restrictions. The highest level of fur trapping takes place in Québec, Ontario and Alberta, but there are registered traplines also in BC, the Yukon and Manitoba, with some covering large areas. More than 85% of fur garment manufacturing takes place in Montréal. The trapping of fur-bearing animals is licensed and regulated by provincial and territorial governments whose wildlife biologists are responsible for establishing regional management plans to ensure healthy furbearer populations. Trapping activities must be consistent with international agreements such as CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
Provincial and territorial governments receive nearly $1.6 million in royalty and licence revenues from fur trappers annually; 42% of this amount is used by government-managed programs for wildlife habitat conservation. Canada's fur trade, which includes fur farming as well as trapping, contributes more than $800 million to the national economy each year. Domestic retail fur sales have an annual market value of approximately $300 million, while the industry's international trade value accounts for roughly $226 million. In 2006, exports of pelts and fur apparel surpassed $450 million, part of an upward trend following a record low of $143 million in 1992. Canada's fur markets include China, Russia, Ukraine, Europe, Turkey, Korea and the US.
Biological Needs for Trapping
Biological needs for trapping have been predicated on the desirability of controlling population numbers if starvation and habitat damage are to be avoided, on the danger of diseases in wildlife populations (eg, sarcoptic mange, canine distemper), and on the danger of disease being communicated to domestic animals or humans (eg, rabies, tularemia). Any attempt at alleviating these concerns involves imponderables. For example, well-defined, 10-year population cycles have been shown from Canadian fur-trapping returns for coyote, snowshoe hare, mink, fisher and marten.
For Canadian lynx and coloured foxes the cycles span the past 200 and 100 years, respectively, but the causes of these cyclic changes are unclear. Reproductive rates (eg, in beaver and muskrat) may actually rise, and not fall, in response to trapping. Trapping of particular species may be based on the economics of fads and fashions; the rarest species may become the most sought after. Nontarget catches (including some pets) may comprise at least 10% of the total land-trapped animals but a lesser percentage of the semiaquatics. Thinning out a population may or may not reduce disease incidence. In some areas where the leg-hold trap has been banned, there have been no observable increases in diseases.
Species most commonly trapped, depending on regional differences, include badger, beaver, bobcat, cougar, coyote, ermine (weasel), fisher, fox, hare, lynx, marten, mink, muskrat, otter, rabbit, raccoon, skunk, squirrel, wolf and wolverine. Bears are trapped in some provinces.
Ethical Concerns about Trapping
The continuing development of more humane attitudes towards animals in Canada has involved 2 areas of concern: first, animals' welfare and their humane treatment, and, second, animals' interests, rights of liberation and legal protection. One group of people (including supporting organizations) has been primarily involved with the first area of concern. When faced with specific mistreatment of certain animals, this group tries to alleviate or prevent that particular inhumane act: eg, seal hunting (which has sometimes involved live skinning); trapping (where animals may suffer for prolonged periods); and the food industry (where animals may be housed in cramped and inhumane conditions, and where their slaughtering may induce fear, stress, suffering and panic). Another group of people, while being informed about or involved with the first area of concern, has developed and projected some consistent and broadly based moral and ethical positions that suggest ways in which humans should behave towards all animals, so that, whenever possible, no animals are needlessly abused or exploited.
Such philosophies generally govern one's own behaviour and can act as a conceptual guide to others. The concepts of animal protection, rights, interests and liberation are encouraging an increasing number of Canadians to refuse to participate knowingly in the use of products, such as garments made from fur trapping, which have involved the abuse, exploitation or unnecessary killing of animals.
The conceptual thrust of the animal rights movement is in direct opposition to the pursuit of fur trapping. Also, as with the seal hunt, growing concern in Europe and elsewhere about the lack of humaneness in North American trapping may, considering Canada's heavy dependence on the export market, decisively influence the continuance of Canadian fur trapping.
Traps are for holding (eg, foot snare, leg-hold, box), or killing (eg, deadfall, neck snare, Conibear, submarine trap). Box holding traps are cumbersome to transport and may cause stress, but they are normally noninjurious. Some species caught in a leg-hold may bite off a limb or limbs ("wring-off") to escape - unless the trap has a "stop-loss" device. As of 1986 steel-toothed, leg-hold traps were still manufactured in the US but were banned in BC, Alberta, Ontario and NS.
The neck snare may slowly choke the animal to death, as it struggles to escape, or catch around other parts of the body - it can cause gross injuries and protracted suffering. The Conibear trap may not kill quickly if the animal enters it incorrectly or if the closing impact is insufficient. If traps are not visited regularly, animals may suffer from exposure, stress, thirst, starvation, gangrene and predation. Only BC, Ontario, Alberta, NB and PEI require visitation every one to 3 days. To avoid bullet holes in the pelt, a trapper dispatches an animal by clubbing its head, by using a snare on a handle to choke it, or by stamping on its chest.
The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals (APFA) and the Canadian Association for Humane Trapping (CAHT) have been influential in informing the public and also governmental officials about the ethical issues and suffering involved in trapping (including the presentation of films); in sponsoring research on the development of more humane traps; and in advocating the withdrawal of inhumane traps (leg-hold traps are now banned as land sets for a number of species in BC and Ontario).
CAHT joined with the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies to form the Humane Trap Development Committee (HTDC). The HTDC definition of a humane death is that the animal suffers neither panic nor pain. The Fur Institute of Canada (FIC), formed in 1983, is a private corporation funded primarily by the federal government. Its purposes are dissemination of information to the public on behalf of the fur industry and humane trap research and development.
The federal departments of the Environment and of External Affairs have sponsored papers outlining possible ways of defending the fur trade against anti-fur activists. A strong, government-funded campaign defended the industry using the issue of native rights as a centrepiece. It also emphasized Canada's historical dependence on the fur trade and claimed that trapping maintains nature's balance. The attempt of the pro-fur lobby to "discredit" those who express moral positions in defence of animals is illustrative of the friction generated between the conflicting groups.
The Criminal Code of Canada (s402(1)a) states that "Every one commits an offence who wilfully causes or, being the owner, wilfully allows to be caused unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal or bird"; but there is no precedent for it being applied on behalf of wild animals in trapping. A private member's bill (C-208) to amend the Criminal Code (in favour of humane traps) led to evidence being presented in 1977, but the bill was not adopted.
BRUCE GORDON CUMMING
Mammal Trapping, 1985 to the Present
Mammal trapping is still an important part of human activities and land-based lifestyles. However, as animal rights groups raised concerns about the fur industry's practices, pelt production fell by 62% in the early 1990s, and the industry continued to struggle in the 2000s. Contrary to old beliefs, indigenous wildlife populations do not need to be trapped in order to remain within the carrying capacity of their environment. However, some species produce enough animals annually to allow the harvest of part of their populations. Trapping is not a technique that is exclusively linked to the fur industry. Trapping is often the most efficient way to selectively remove nuisance animals or reduce rodent densities in urban settings. In the past, intensive trapping programs have been useful in controlling or monitoring mammal populations that transmit diseases or parasites to humans and other animals. In agriculture, trapping is a valuable alternative to non-selective toxicants. Trapping is an essential component of research on mammal ecology, behaviour and genetics. Mammal trapping continues to play an important role in today's societies. However, the way in which it is being carried out has changed to accommodate societal concerns about animal welfare and biodiversity conservation.
State-of-the-art trapping technology
From 1985 to 1993, in cooperation with the Alberta Environmental Centre and the Alberta Research Council, the Fur Institute of Canada funded an extensive research program that resulted in the development of effective research protocols and the development of humane trapping devices for several furbearers. Many of these new traps have been used as alternatives to controversial and inhumane steel-jawed foothold traps. Further research and development work has been conducted since 1993 by Alpha Wildlife Research & Management Ltd, an impartial research corporation which also organized a unique international mammal trapping symposium in 1997, and since then, published information on mammal trapping technology and ethics.
An Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS), signed by Canada and the European Union in December 1997, was implemented in Canada in the fall of 2007. The agreement requires that wild furs be taken in accordance with scientifically verified and internationally accepted humane systems. However, international standards failed to completely incorporate technical advances, and the United States developed its own best management practices on the basis of technical, economical and social criteria. Nevertheless, criteria for performance of humane traps consistent with state-of-the-art technological development have been identified by wildlife professionals and, at a 95% confidence level, humane killing traps should render at least 70% of target animals irreversibly unconscious in less than 3 minutes; humane live traps should hold at least 70% of animals without serious injuries. Over the last decades, tremendous progress has occurred in the field of trap research and development. Wildlife professionals are now more concerned with the wellbeing of captured animals, and use traps that have been demonstrated to be humane, capture-efficient, and safe for animals and users.
Author GILBERT PROULX
L. Bisgould, Animals and the Law (2011); B.G. Cumming, "Human and Animal Rights," Policy Options 7(7):19-23 (1986) and "Humane Trapping," Policy Options 8(1):27-30 (1987); Fur Institute of Canada, On Nature's Terms (1985); G. Proulx, ed., Mammal trapping (1999); R.A. Powell and G. Proulx, "Trapping and marking terrestrial mammals for research: integrating ethics, standards, techniques, and common sense," Institute of Laboratory Animal Research Journal 44 (259-276) (2003); S.D. Schemnitz, "Capturing and handling wild animals," Techniques for Wildlife Investigation and Management (2005).
Links to Other Sites
In Pursuit of Adventure: The Fur Trade in Canada and the North West Company
An extensive website featuring digitized archival material related to the fur trade and its role in the early exploration, settlement, and economic development of Canada. From the McGill University Digital Collections Program.
Exploration, the Fur Trade and Hudson's Bay Company
This nicely illustrated website chronicles the turbulent early years of Canada’s fledgling fur trade. Features stories about European explorers, Aboriginal communities, the North West Company, and the Hudson’s Bay Company. Also includes online maps, teacher materials, and links to primary sources in the Early Canadiana Online database.
Fur Institute of Canada
This Fur Industry of Canada website focuses on such industry issues as animal welfare, humane animal capture devices and wildlife conservation. Also includes educational resources about fur bearing animals and sustainable use practices.
Hudson's Bay Company ends its fur trade
Hudson's Bay Company was created in 1670 to trade animal pelts for goods at remote outposts across North America. This 1991 CBC news story focuses on the company’s decision to discontinue selling furs in its retail stores.
Fur Trade Facts
A glossary of terms commonly used in reference to the history of Canada's fur trade. From the website for Alberta's Heritage Community Foundation.
Search the Reuters website for the latest news and reports about specific Canadian companies and business sectors.