Ethical Trapping: An Oxymoron

Ethical Trapping: An Oxymoron

By Trish Swain, Editor Nevada Wildlife Watcher

Lately Nevada wildlife watchers seek solutions to so many issues: Wildlife killing contests; lack of representation on local or state wildlife boards; hunting black bears; hunting with hounds; persecution of predators. In the mix is the outcry against cruel trapping. With no apologies, this newsletter will keep up the fight for an end to commercial and “recreational” trapping on our public lands.

To most wildlife watchers, trapping is arguably the most abhorrent, repulsive, ethically bankrupt torment that can be visited upon animals.

From Time To End a Twisted Tradition by Jim Robertson:
“Unless a severe blow to the head or some psychopathic disorder has rendered them incapable of feeling empathy for others, anyone who witnesses the harrowing ordeal suffered by an animal caught in a leghold trap should be appalled and outraged that trapping is still legal in a society that considers itself civilized. The continuation of this horrid, outdated practice in a country governed by the people suggests that either most folks have brain damage, or they are simply unaware of the terrible anguish and desperation a trapped animal goes through.”

The cruelty argument is frequently dismissed as “unscientific” Thousands of people who write to TrailSafe and to similar groups around the USA, are not concerned with being “scientific” and object to trapping because of its extreme cruelty. Are they all wrong? Is trapping harmless recreation like birdwatching? (As one member of the Washoe County Advisory Board to Manage Wildlife declared to the media) Did over 100 countries worldwide ban or severely restrict trapping for any other reason? Why do all the major animal advocacy groups in the USA call for an end to commercial trapping? Or, better yet, all trapping.

The cruelty argument is the elephant in the living room in any discussion of trapping.

Society presumably advances through time. Cruelty to pets is increasingly penalized. Cooney’s Law, SB223 passed in the 2011 Nevada Legislature, makes heinous cruelty to pets a felony. Yet the agony inflicted on trapped animals is still legal. Why does a dog have more protection than a coyote?

Credit: Trapfree New Mexico

Nevada does not require any courses or training to get a trapping license, whereas, if you were born after Jan. 1, 1960, you need to provide proof of hunter education to purchase a Nevada hunting license. A trapping license is required to: take furbearers by any legal method, take unprotected mammals by trapping, or sell raw furs for profit. $42.00. Persons 15 years of age and under pay only $14.00. That’s it. You pay the fee and you have a trapping license.

Hunter Education Online Study Guide

For the benefit of prospective hunters, Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) provides an online study guide. And thrown in, a trapping code of ethics for anybody who wants to trap, regardless of age. This section needs a 21st Century overhaul, fact check and debunking.

The Study Guide introduction: “Trapping furbearing animals was once a full-time occupation. Today, regulated trapping is an important tool for managing our nation’s natural resources”.


Trapping is not resource management. Trapping is indiscriminate. Trappers conduct no surveys to determine species populations. There is no upward limit on numbers of animals Nevada permits trappers to kill.

Study Guide Trapper’s Code of Ethics:

1. Obtain the landowner’s permission.


This was hardly the case when traps showed up on the Sturgis family ranch. The family dog, Beowulf, was trapped and injured. In efforts to free him, Judy Sturgis suffered hand injuries which required stitches and also a bite from the panic-stricken animal. Later  trespassers denied the traps were theirs. Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) game warden and the police were of limited help. The entire story was published in the  January 15, 2014 Minden Record Courier.

2. Avoid setting traps in areas where domestic animals may be caught.

Domestic animals are caught in a variety of settings including residential neighborhoods, hiking trails and equestrian trails. NDOW lists of non-target animals trapped are obtained from trappers’ self-reports. Here is the astonishing variety of species:

Domestic Cat, Domestic Dog, Ducks, Game Animals, Livestock, Magpies, Mt. Lions, Rabbits, Ravens, Pack Rats, Porcupine, Geese, Golden Eagle, Hawks, Quail, Burro, Chipmunk, Deer, Ground Squirrel, Rail, Badger, Bear, Coot, Ermine, Feral Pig, Blue Heron, Bobcat, Chukar, Owl, Pond Turtle

3. Set traps to capture the target animal in the most humane way possible.

There is no humane way to set leghold, snare or Conibear-type traps.

4. Check traps at least once every 24 hours, preferably in the early morning.

We spent a year 2013-14 testifying to the Wildlife Commission making the case for daily trap inspection. But Nevada statute gives trappers 96 hours, i.e. four days, to let animals suffer unspeakable pain, fear, thirst, hunger, exposure to predators, exposure to elements. With only 31 law enforcement officers to cover 110,567 vast, mostly empty, square miles, enforcement is chancy at best. So many animals probably suffer even longer.
33 states have 24-hour visitation law. This includes large Western states such as CO,AZ,NM,WA which are comparable in size to Nevada. And, each of these states have placed limits or bans upon public lands trapping. Again, Nevada lags way behind.

5. Record trap locations accurately.

Maybe trappers do this for themselves . Their traplines can be miles long, so a reminder would be helpful. As for telling the public where their beloved pet might be likely to have body parts mauled or broken and scream out in pain and terror, well that’s a joke to trappers. When we asked for trap markers, we met derision. What if somebody would steal a precious trap? Traps cost between $5 and $20. What if a tree hugging bandit messes with one? The public now has the right to move or disable a trap that poses risk, thanks to our successful bill, SB364. But this fine point of ethics remains a joke to trappers.

6. Identify all traps with waterproof name and address tags.

When our campaign began, traps had no ID, no way to hold trappers accountable. It took ten years of legislative wrangling, finally we succeeded in 2017.  Every trap, snare or similar device used in commercial and/or recreational trapping on public land has to have either the trapper’s name and address, or else a registration number issued by NDOW.

7. Use as much of the animal as possible before disposing of remains.

8. Dispose of animal carcasses properly so as not to offend others.

We try to spare you the worst photos, so be forewarned if you follow this link from our colleagues at Trapfree New Mexico: Evidently some New Mexico trappers don’t mind offending others. We suspect it’s the same in Nevada, but don’t have photos.

9. Make an effort to trap in areas with a surplus of animals.

This data is not readily available. Most wildlife watchers do not believe that animal populations need to be controlled by lethal means. Wildlife find the balance when living according to Nature’s plan in their habitat. We have not seen any data to indicate “areas with surplus of animals”.

10. Promptly report the presence of diseased animals to wildlife authorities.

Any data happily accepted at

11. Support and help train new trappers.

At a 2014 Wildlife Commission meeting, trappers discussed creating a course similar to the hunter ed course. To date, there is no official course. Trappers are well organized: they are a presence at sportsmens’ meetings and social events, and are effective lobbyists. No question they are supportive of each other. That’s how they’ve gained so much influence in our state.

12. Know and follow all trapping regulations.

NDOW has a system of penalties and demerits for violations. With traplines covering miles, with traps so well camouflaged, it’s no easy task to enforce regulations. We are currently seeking data on numbers of violators.

13. Support enforcement of all regulations

The most basic regulations had to be established when we entered the arena in 2007. At that time trappers believed they didn’t need any identification or registration on traps; that they could trap in residential neighborhoods; that any ignorant soul daring to touch one of their traps owed a $100 fine; and that no wildlife advocates deserved a seat on the trapping committee. They believed the only possible objection to trapping was when one’s dog was trapped. Humane arguments were shrugged off. Whether trappers “support enforcement of all regulations” is dubious in the extreme. We have to be on guard because any regulations we managed to push through can be overturned in future Legislative sessions.

14. Dispatch trapped furbearers in a humane manner.

There are those who think shooting or drowning or strangling or beating a helpless animal while it’s trapped and has spent at least four days in terror and pain is humane. Those should never be in a position to make decisions about the wildlife that by law belongs to all the citizens of this state.

The Study Guide provides a Glossary which defines one word: “Dispatch”: “To put to death quickly” Be aware of other euphemisms for cold-blooded, heartless, grotesque killing: “harvest”; “take”; “cull”

Cleveland Amory:  “I started out writing about Lady Astor and her horse,”  he often said,  “and became more interested in the horse.”

Cleveland Amory: “I started out writing about Lady Astor and her horse,”  he often said,  “and became more interested in the horse.”

A hero is born among a hundred, a wise man is found among a thousand, but an accomplished one might not be found even among a hundred thousand men – Plato

Wayne Pacelle refers to Cleveland Amory as “the founding father of the modern animal protection movement.”

Here is an introduction to the accomplished man and his many accomplishments. Wildlife watchers everywhere are in his debt. His book Man Kind? Our Incredible War on Wildlife, was published in 1974; is out of print, but used copies can be ordered online. It is more than worth the price for a copy that may be yellowing and brittle, but with content as vital and probably more entertaining, than anything available today.
In the video below, Amory blasts the wildlife “management” establishment as we all have done over the years either in the media, or behind the scenes, as we experience year after year frustration, roadblocks, opposition, apathy, myths, outright lies, ignorance from those we once naively thought were interested in protecting, propagating and restoring our native wildlife.
Amory delivered this tirade in 1974. That was 48 years ago. We’ve moved forward a bit here and there. But almost everything Amory says is just as true today. What are we going to do about it? How do we honor his legacy?- By Trish Swain, Editor Nevada Wildlife Watcher

Man Kind? Our Incredible War on Wildlife

“My book is a thorough and convincing argument that game management as practiced today in the United States of America is a cruel fraud.” Amory believes the country “will survive the privation” if NRA “just goes”. “State laws against cruelty to animals must be applied to wild animals… and they must be upheld by the courts” [I, your humble editor, have expressed this concept for years! But we have yet to see any action upon it. Action by me or anybody else.]
Echoing many of us, Amory goes on to say “State Fish and Game Departments must be reconstituted so that their numbers represent non-hunters.”
“Game management must get out of the game . . . “

The Fund for Animals

The Fund for Animals was founded in 1967 by author and animal advocate Cleveland Amory, and spearheaded significant events in the history of the animal protection movement. Among its historical work, the organization implemented a massive four-year airlift to rescue burros scheduled to be shot by the National Park Service in the Grand Canyon; launched a three-year rescue of burros in Death Valley National Park; rescued 3,000 goats from San Clemente Naval Weapons Facility; and halted some hunting seasons of wolves, bison and bears across the U.S. In 1979, the Fund for Animals purchased land in Texas to build Black Beauty Ranch, now a 1,400-acre sanctuary for nearly 800 animals—40 different species—rescued from cruelty and neglect, including tigers, bears, primates, burros and horses. – HSUS

Black Beauty Ranch

. . . Inspired by Anna Sewell’s novel Black Beauty, Amory established the Black Beauty Ranch, a 1,460-acre sanctuary that sheltered various abused animals including chimpanzees, burros and elephants. Located in Murchison, Texas, this ranch accommodated over 600 resident animals. Amory’s goal was to “create a sanctuary where its inhabitants would roam unfettered and unbothered by human taskmasters.” The words on the ranch’s gate are taken from the final lines of Sewell’s novel, “I have nothing to fear, / and my story ends. / My troubles are all over, / and I am at home.” The ranch is currently operated by Humane Society of the United States.

Compleat Cat

Cleveland Amory
and Polar Bear

“You cannot expect everything even from the friendliest cat. It is still a cat.”

“Cats have enormous patience with the limitations of the human mind. They realize…that we have an infuriating inability to understand, let alone follow, even the simplest and most explicit of directions.”

“Unlike some people who have experienced the loss of an animal, I did not believe, even for a moment, that I would never get another. I did know full well that there were just too many animals out there in need of homes for me to take what I have always regarded as the self-indulgent road of saying the heartbreak of the loss of an animal was too much ever to want to go through with it again. To me, such an admission brought up the far more powerful admission that all the wonderful times you had with your animal were not worth the unhappiness at the end.”

The Compleat Cat includes three books – each volume an international bestseller upon publication. The three are consecutive – the history of Amory’s relationship with adopted stray, Polar Bear. In fact, the books are as much autobiographical as they are a tribute to their relationship. Amory weaves in sidelights from a life few if any of us could hope to match. Amory has drinks with Cary Grant at the Hollywood Polo Lounge; enlists Princess Grace of Monaco, Doris Day, Mary Tyler Moore, and other luminaries as sponsors of his Fund for Animals; buys the first Sea Shepherd for Captain Paul Watson and goes on mission to Canada’s Magdalene Islands to protect baby seals from being clubbed to death by the fur trade. And that’s not all – just a sampling.
In fact, Polar Bear becomes a celebrity with heaps of fan mail, but he “did not like anything about being a celebrity. For one thing, celebrities have to meet a great many new people, and Polar Bear did not like new people. . . He had already met everyone he wanted to meet, and in fact he would have dearly liked to subtract some of these.”


Amory devotes 116 pages of Man Kind? to trapping under the title: “Real People Wear Fake Furs” This provides a wealth of trapping and anti-trapping history. The story is richly detailed, taking us from colonial days to the National Anti-Steel Trap League, to the Friends of the Earth to the Fund for Animals to pushback from groups like The Fur Conservation Institute of America and Fur Age Weekly and so many others.
Many of the stories here are unbearable to read, but Amory did not flinch from the blood-soaked truth. Will it take another 50 years for the world to see an end to the despicable practice of trapping?

“I consider the leghold trap the most devilish instrument ever inflicted by the hand of man on a fellow creature”

“I have read book after book about the early days of the fur industry and hardly one of them mentions anything about the death of the animals, let alone what kind of death.”

Sea Shepherd

In 1978, Amory purchased the first oceangoing vessel for Captain Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.  Watson says: “I needed a ship and there was only one person who I could turn to for help. That was Cleveland Amory, the founder of the Fund for Animals. I approached Cleveland with an idea and he said, “Go and get your ship” and handed me $120,000 in cash.

“With that money, I located an old British trawler in October 1978 named the Westella and renamed her “Sea Shepherd.”

Without Cleveland, I could not have done it. He was my friend and mentor until his death in 1998.”

Author, Journalist, Editor, TV Commentator, Critic

“Cleveland Amory meanwhile became one of the most subversive elements ever to mock the status quo from a social position securely inside the establishment.” – Merritt Clifton

  1. 1939 – 41 youngest editor ever hired by Saturday Evening Post
  2. military intelligence US Army1941-43
  3. 1952 regular columnist for Saturday Review
  4. 1952 hired as commentator on NBC’s Today
  5. 1963-76 Critic for TV Guide
  6. inspired CBS documentary on  hunting: “The Guns of Autumn”
  7. Daily radio essay “Curmudgeon at Large”
  8. Syndicated column “Animail”
  9. 1980-98 contributing editor Parade magazine
  10. Only film appearance: Mr. Danforth in comedy-drama “Mr.North”

All books are nonfiction, unless noted otherwise.

  • The Proper Bostonians (1947)
  • Home Town (1947) (novel)
  • The Last Resorts (1952)
  • Who Killed Society? (1960)
  • Celebrity Register (1963) (with Earl Blackwell)
  • Man Kind? Our Incredible War on Wildlife (1974)
  • Animail (1976) (collection of Amory’s syndicated columns)
  • The Trouble With Nowadays: A Curmudgeon Strikes Back (1979) (fictional satire)
  • The Cat Who Came for Christmas (1987)
  • The Cat and the Curmudgeon (1990) (alternate title: The Cat Who Stayed for Christmas)
  • The Best Cat Ever (1993)
  • Cleveland Amory’s Compleat Cat (1995) (all three “Cat” titles in one volume)
  • Ranch of Dreams (1997)
  • Vanity Fair, A Cavalcade of the 1920s and 1930s (ed. with Frederic Bradlee)

– Chronology per Wikipedia