At last, gin traps have been banned. Not only that but the larger 'leg-hold' traps that can trap their victims by soft parts of their body have been banned too. These new regulations under the Animal Welfare Act are long overdue. I believe that gin traps and the size 1½ plus leg-hold traps are often very cruel and they have caused millions of animals intense pain and suffering. Not just pest animals either. Many non-target species such as hedgehogs and even cats, dogs and birds are caught in leg-hold traps every year.
The Animal Welfare Act already makes it illegal to use any leg-hold trap within 150 m of a dwelling without the permission of the occupier or in any area where there is probable risk of catching a pet. Recently too the Animal Welfare Act made it compulsory for those who set traps to inspect them within 12 hours of sunrise the day after the trap was set and kill humanely or release any trapped animals.
Together all these requirements should help prevent a huge amount of animal suffering.
What are 'gin' traps and 'larger' leg-hold traps?
Leg-hold traps such as the Lanes Ace or gin trap have been widely used for possum and rabbit control for many years. The gin trap is more than 10.5 cm across its open jaws, which are serrated, and it is powered by a flat metal spring, so it's a "size 1½ long spring" trap.
Traps of size 1½ or larger are more likely than the smaller traps to snap shut across the belly or chest of an animal. Although larger traps have been banned, traps of size 1½ can still be used if they are powered by double-coil springs. From January 2011 they will have to be padded, and you can't modify them yourself to make them padded...
Why are they cruel?
When the gin trap snaps shut on its victim, the teeth bite into the skin and can cause a lot of trauma and no doubt agonizing pain. All leg-hold traps are indiscriminate about what they catch. If they are set in possum tracks or runs it's more likely than not that any catch will be a possum, but it might also be a cat, hedgehog, rat, bird or small dog. Large dogs can sometimes pull out of them but they may be injured in the process.
Icing sugar or flour around traps is sometimes used to attract possums, but if used beneath a trap the animal is likely to be trapped by its snout or head.
What are the alternative leg-hold traps?
It is still legal to use size 1 leg-hold traps such as the Victor within the restrictions on location and setting described above. It is smaller than the gin trap and doesn't have serrated jaws. The Victor No 1 can be bought with cushioned inserts that make it more humane. It tends to cause less frequent and less severe injuries than the gin trap and larger leg-hold traps, but it can still cause severe bruising, and trapped animals will sometimes cause themselves severe injuries in their struggle to get free.
Trappers favour the Victor No 1 because it is compact, light and relatively efficient. The changes in the legislation mean that it is likely to become even more popular.
There's good advice for landowners on the most humane way to use leg-hold traps and their alternatives on the National Possum Control Agencies website (www.npca.org.nz), and not just for possums but for ferrets too.
What is the most humane method of possum control?
I believe that Feratox capsules are the best option for lifestyle farms, especially if they are used in bait stations or sachets stapled to trees, baited with peanut butter (possums like it and dogs and birds usually don't). The pest control companies that put out the poison will usually on request remove the sachets after a few days, and this helps reduce the risk of accidental poisoning of other animals. The poison in the capsules, cyanide, is quickly destroyed on exposure to air. Death is quick and relatively stress-free and there is no risk of secondary poisoning of dogs that scavenge poisoned carcases.
Some traps have been tested for humaneness (eg the DOC-series kill-traps). If you are buying traps, ask about this and be sure you are using the most humane trap available.
What should you do if you see gin traps being used?
If you see a banned leg-hold trap being sold or set or if you see any leg-hold trap being set in an area where there's a real risk that a pet will be caught, call MAF's animal welfare complaints hotline toll-free on 0800 008 333.
The bottom line
Possums and rabbits may be classed as pests, but if we want to get rid of them by killing them, we have a moral obligation to do it humanely. They are intelligent mammals just as capable of pain, fear and suffering as any domestic pet.
For further information, see MAF's biosecurity website: www.biosecurity.govt.nz/legholdtraps