In the world of wildlife killing, there is perhaps no method more inhumane and more indiscriminate than the steel-jawed leghold trap. This was confirmed once again in Connecticut last week when a federally protected barred owl was caught in one of the barbaric devices—the bird was emaciated and unable to hunt after being stuck in the rusty trap for a long period of time. A veterinarian could not save the animal. It was the second such incident in Connecticut this year alone, as a great horned owl could not be saved in January due to severe injuries sustained in a trap.
The steel-jawed leghold trap has maintained its same basic design since Sewell Newhouse of New York’s Oneida Community invented the device in 1823. Since then, it has been banned or severely restricted in most industrialized nations of the world, and in eight states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington—five of those through voter ballot initiatives.
Where it continues to be used, it’s not for any critical wildlife management purpose since other methods are more humane and more targeted, but rather for recreation and for the paltry profits that trappers derive from selling the fur pelts of animals caught in the traps. The steel jaws of the trap are like landmines that snap shut on any hapless creature who wanders into them—including family pets, endangered species, and other non-target animals discarded by trappers as “trash species.” Many of the animals struggle for hours or days before the trapper checks his trap line, dying slowly of blood loss, starvation, or other injuries.
Connecticut lawmakers have considered legislation to ban leghold traps in the past, but the bills have languished in the legislature like the animals caught in the steel traps and unable to break free. It’s time for state legislators to modernize their wildlife management practices and relegate this blunt 19th century instrument to the history books, for the good of protected owls, endangered species, other native wildlife, and family pets. There’s just something terribly immoral about the use of these archaic and cruel devices in the 21st century that should embarrass humanity.
The U.S. Congress, too, should take action on this issue and pass the Refuge from Cruel Trapping Act, H.R. 3710, introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.). This bill would end the use of lethal body-gripping traps in the National Wildlife Refuge System—and if there’s any place where animals should be safe from the jaws of a trap, it’s on a refuge.