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Safe and Humane Operation of Animal Traps

26th Mar 2013

Setting a Trap

Before purchasing or setting a trap, you should review the wildlife laws in your area to ensure the legality of trapping.  Failure to observe the laws in your state when you capture the animal could result the destruction of the animal or legal penalties for you.  It might also be a good idea to alert neighbors if trapping in a residential area—you could end up catching your neighbors’ pets. 

Thoroughly clean and disinfect the trap before you use it.  After assembling and becoming familiar with setting and triggering the trap, you need to choose an effective location in which to place it.  Place the trap in a high traffic area for that animal.  Take note of where its nest or home might be.  Keep an eye out for droppings, attractive food sources, water, and damages it may have caused.   When you’ve placed the trap, you can make it more tempting by blending it with the surrounding environment by covering it with leaves or grass.  You might want to put some paper or bedding material in the trap to make the animal feel better about walking on the metal.  The trap should be placed flat and firm on the ground so that it doesn’t rock or wobble.  Lastly, consider the conditions of the area in which you’d like to place your trap.  Leaving an animal in a trap in the sun and heat or completely exposed in rain or cold can hurt or kill it.  Be mindful of the weather and its affect on the comfort and health of the animal.

Operating a basic live animal trap is very simple.  Typically, the traps have one or two doors into which an animal can enter.  The door is raised and put into a locked position with one end of a metal arm.  The other end of the arm is attached to a metal plate on the floor of the trap.  This plate is the trigger mechanism.  When an animal steps on the plate to access food in the trap, the plate pulls the arm down causing the door to shut.

After you have placed the trap, you must consider what the best bait will appeal most to the particular animal you are trying to capture.  Raccoons are attracted to marshmallows, skunks have a taste for seafood, and squirrels really like to eat nuts (surprise).  What you put in the trap will determine what kinds of animals will show interest in it, so be sure that you are using the correct bait for attracting a certain animal.

Once you have placed, baited, and set your trap, your job isn’t over.  You must constantly monitor the trap once you set it.  While you might not be able to sit and stare at it all day, you need to remain close to the trap and check it frequently for capture.  An important thing to remember is that animals under stress can get hurt.  Even with the most careful operation of a trap, whatever you catch will be confused and scared.  An animal left to sit in a trap could injure itself or become sick, so you must keep close watch over any trap you set.  Never let an animal sit around in a trap.

Releasing the Animal

It is extremely important that you check on the laws regarding the trapping of animals in your area before you attempt to set a live animal trap.  If you are trapping with the intent to capture a pest and relocate it, you could be committing a crime.  In many areas, the removal and relocation of a wild animal from its original home to another is illegal.  These laws exist to help prevent invasive or foreign species from upsetting ecosystems that wouldn’t normally include them, and to protect animals that may fair badly when released in unfamiliar territory.  If you are unsure about what you should do with an animal after you’ve caught it, contact your local animal control organization before you use your trap.

Before capturing an animal, experts recommend that you attach a long string or cord to the bottom of the release door for your safety when releasing it.  Putting your fingertips in front of the face of a frightened animal is a big risk, even if you are trying to help them out.  Attaching a string to the door will allow you to lift the door from behind the cage or at a safe distance, and avoid exposing yourself to bites and scratches through the grates of the trap.  You should always keep your hands and fingers clear of the animal.

Different types of animals should be handled differently, and you should make sure that you do your research before you trap the animal.  For all animals, the first rule is DO NOT touch the animal.  Even if you are capturing a domestic species, it has the potential to cause severe injury, infection, or rabies.  If you are bitten during the capture or release process, you must contact animal control and allow them to collect the animal.  If the animal appears unhealthy, you should also contact animal control.  When approaching or handling the trap, you should move slowly and cautiously to reduce stress to the animal.  If moving the trap, you may want to gently cover it in a blanket or towel to keep the animal as calm as you can.  When you lift the door of the trap, keep at a safe distance and allow the animal to exit. 

If at all possible, avoid capturing nursing animals.  Without their mother, young animals won’t be able to survive.  It is advised that you check for signs of motherhood before you execute any plans for the captured animal.  If you suspect that it may have babies around, release it as soon as possible.

These are only a few suggestions for keeping both you and wildlife safer when operating live animal traps.  For more safety information, contact your local animal control or humane society.  If you have any doubts about safely handling an animal, it may be best to contact a professional.

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