America’s trapping boom relies on cruel and grisly tools

The following is an investigative piece by Tom Knudson that exposes the gruesome realities of  trapping wildlife and the industry that supports it all. 

Source: Reveal from the Center for Investigating Reporting by Tom Knudson January 14, 2016 
Day after day, the mountain lion struggled to free itself. But the steel-jaw trap held its grip.
Desperate, the big cat bit the trap so hard that it broke a tooth. It tugged and wrenched and twisted. Finally, exhausted and dehydrated, the 7-foot-long male died in the mountains of Nevada in 2013, its left leg still pinned in the trap.
Across the United States, the resurgence of a frontier tradition – commercial fur trapping – is taking a hidden, often grisly toll on wildlife. The activity is legal. It is regulated by state agencies. And for the most part, it doesn’t pose a threat to species’ survival.
But it is carried out in ways that often inflict prolonged suffering and capture many species – including mountain lions – by mistake. And much of it is happening on public land, including national forests, even wildlife refuges.
Fur trapping might seem like a page from the past, a reminder of the days of Daniel Boone and coonskin caps. And in most of the world, it is. Among the few nations where it occurs, none is more important than the United States. Every year, 150,000 trappers here capture and kill up to 7 million wild animals, more than any nation on earth.
In all, more than 20 species are targeted for their fur, from foxes to raccoons, coyotes to river otters. But it is the spotted, marble-white fur of one animal that has sparked a Wild West-like trapping boom in recent years.
That species is the bobcat, a stealthy, stub-tailed cousin of the Canadian lynx that inhabits 47 of the 50 states, yet is rarely seen. As a commodity, bobcats are traded by their pelts, which are skinned off the animals after they are trapped and killed in the field.

For trappers, the value of a pelt has soared, from under $100 in 2000 to more than $1,400 for top-quality items. Just as the Gold Rush drew a flood of greenhorns into the mountains in the mid-19th century, so too has the prospect of striking it rich in fur drawn novice trappers into the countryside today. Although average prices dropped below $400 last year, bobcat pelts remain one of the most valuable wildlife products in America.
Most of those pelts, though, don’t stay in America, where fur has fallen out of fashion because of concerns about cruelty and pressure from animal advocacy groups.

What’s fueling the market now are buyers in China, Russia, Europe and other parts of the world where fur is a symbol of wealth and power, where luxury garments made from the pelts of 30 to 40 animals sell for $50,000 to $150,000. The number of bobcat pelts exported from the U.S. has quadrupled in recent years, climbing to more than 65,000 in 2013, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
I wanted to know more about that trade, to connect the dots from the wide-open spaces out West where bobcats are caught and killed to the high-end fur stores overseas where eye-popping bobcat attire is sold. What I discovered was a world of stunning scenery and searing pain, a landscape where bobcats and other animals are captured with a device so hazardous that it is outlawed in more than 80 nations, from Austria to Zimbabwe: the steel-jaw trap.
Traps work by slamming shut on the paw or leg of an animal and holding it until a trapper arrives. Often, they are instruments of torture. Bones can be broken. Tendons are torn. Flesh is frayed. Some animals break free by chewing or twisting off a paw or limb. {Click HERE to read the full story}

Trapper Larry Gogert, shown holding fox and coyote pelts, says trapping is less cruel than the natural world. “If you didn’t catch them, they’ll suffer. Something else will kill them,” he said. Credit: Max Whittaker for Reveal

The home page for the Michael’s Furs/Montana Fur Traders website features a woman swaddled in pelts. Credit: Michaelsfurs.com

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