September 28, 2021

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Laws on leg-hold animal traps around the world

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This article is written by Nandini Singhal, from Amity Law School, Noida. This article is a review of how cruel animal traps are and laws regarding the same.

Table of Contents

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A leg-hold animal trap is a device that captures animals by their paws forcefully causing cruel injuries and unbearable pain to them. The trap is attached by a metal chain alongside an anchor to keep the animals in that particular area. These are used worldwide to trap animals and later on these animals’ parts are used to make various things like leather jackets, fur coats, etc. These traps are most commonly used on species like coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, and otters to carry on research work (E.g. measuring, marking for identification, or relocation to another habitat). Since the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights (1948) is adopted by UNESCO which talks about various rights of animals, such inhumane practices and such devices become a medium of violating such treaties. There are various types of traps like under spring or jump, long spring, coil-spring, guarded, enclosed, etc. In this article, we will discuss various countries’ laws on leg-hold animal traps.

Animals’ rights should be equally important as human rights are, ignoring them is not at all justified. A leg-hold animal trap is one of the worst ways an animal can be tortured and made to suffer. These traps capture the animal and tear through their flesh and break the bones to hold them in place, the immediate reaction of the animal is to pull and push that particular part and they end up hurting themselves even more in the process. They have to suffer till the time they die out of pain or blood loss or till the time the trapper comes and captures them. It is not a form of hunting and is sheer unnecessary torture used just for humans’ benefit. It is completely unjustified to take away someone else’s rights just to make a living for yourself. Using them today has become very controversial, as animals’ rights are highly recognized and a lot of animal welfare organisations are stepping forward to make sure that animals are also protected and such cruel methods of trapping are banned. Trappers argue that they do this to maintain the balance of nature or to trap unwanted animals, but the quantum of pain animals’ suffering is not justified anyhow. Some of the main concerns are : 

  • The injury they cause like bone fractures, hemorrhage, etc.
  • Secondly the mental shock they get because of pain or because of restraint, many animals do not like getting restrained and this can affect them permanently. 
  • Thirdly the non-targeted animals which get trapped unnecessarily and lose their life. 

Some international laws which aim to protect the animals are the International Convention for the Protection of Animals which covers varied abuses against the animals. 

USA

When talking about the USA, it has a federal structure, so every state has its laws. Keeping in mind the cruelty of these traps, some states have gone ahead in creating legislation for banning these traps. Florida, in 1972, became the first state to ban the traps. Then further, California, Arizona, Colorado, Hawai, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington started banning traps, with New Jersey being one of the few states with strong laws banning traps. Even after these laws were enacted, they did not provide complete protection to animals. Much later, in 1999, after a lot of struggle, finally a Bill was passed to eliminate trapping programs and put a ban on steel-jawed leg-hold traps. While here it becomes important to understand that the sale and buying of fur becomes one of the main reasons why animals get trapped, so a couple of states identified this and put a ban on the sale of fur-made clothes like in California and Washington. But at some places, businessmen retaliated against this law as they would be left without business then, so they were asked to put a label on how these animals were killed. 

UK

The Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS) lays down the guidelines and international standards for the approval of traps being used. This agreement was finally implemented in the UK in 2020. In 2018, Defra announced the implementation of AIHTS in the UK. Some considerable changes were made in the laws like Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Humane Trapping Standards Regulation 2019, Spring Traps Approval (England) Order 2018, Spring Traps Approval (Wales) Order 2019, etc. From 1 April 2020, Fenn-type traps are banned and new standards for the approval traps are imposed. In DPP v. Kavanagh (2019), the appellant was sentenced to three years imprisonment for causing unnecessary pain and suffering to the animals. The Court recognized the incident as a truly shocking one and posing threat to animal rights and once again implying the importance of compassion towards animals as well. 

Canda 

There is a myth among the Canadian people that just like the regular toothed trap all other non-harmful leg-hold traps are banned in Canada, but this is not true. Several other types of leg-hold traps are still legal and widely used. These models include the “padded”, “offset” and “laminated”. Leg-hold traps that are currently used in Canada:

  • “Padded”: This is not a padded or soft trap but It has a steel claw alongside a rubber line. It is the fur market that makes it sound like a soft trap.
  • “Offset”: This trap is an ordinary steel-jawed leg-hold trap with a superficial 3/16 of an inch gap between the closed steel jaws. 
  • “Laminated”: This trap has extra steel added to the jaws to make them wider (thicker).

India 

In India, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 is implemented to ban any kind of cruelty against animals, and Section 11 of this particular Act bans cruelty. One of the loopholes of the PCA Act is that penalties for violating the provisions range from just rupees 10 to 50, which does not justify the offence committed. Another provision in the Indian Constitution is Article 51A(g) which says that it becomes important for every citizen to have compassion for all. In Francis Coralie Mullins v. Union of India (1981), the Court held that the right to life is not limited to mere animal existence but also includes the right to live with dignity, hence, every citizen must have compassion for all including the animals. Further, the court has interpreted Article 21 r/w 51A(g) to further the ends of social justice. Then there is the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 which lays down the laws to protect wild animals, it prohibits any kind of harm to animals in one or another way. 

A person can make use of laws by sending a legal notice first to abusers, if no action is taken then a person can go ahead and file a complaint under Section 50(4) of the Wildlife Protection Act and an individual can be arrested under Section 43 of CrPC for a non-bailable and cognizable offence. In a landmark judgment, Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja and Ors. (2014), it was held that no cruelty against the animals would be tolerated and the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) and governments were directed to take necessary steps in care and well being of animals and also to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain against the animals. In another case, the State of U.P. v. Mustakeem and Ors.(2019), it was held that if anywhere it was found that goats were slaughtered in a cruel manner they were to be rescued from there and kept under state’s supervision, implying that animals are not to be subjected to any kind of cruelty in any form. 

  • As we have seen above, various laws are being enacted to ban the traps, and animals’ rights are being recognized. However, it becomes important to understand that implementing them becomes equally important, so effective implementation is the first recommendation, classifying offences related to animal cruelty as grave offences and laying down extensive penalties could be one way of effective implementation. Recently while hearing a plea regarding whether animals are a juristic person or not, the ex CJI gave a statement, “we cannot give animals the status of a juristic person because, if we do so we need to give the plants the status of a juristic person as well because they also are considered living organisms as they also breathe carbon dioxide and give out oxygen”, the judiciary should refrain from giving such statements because animals too face a lot of cruelty and hardships, hence, they also deserve justice. 
  • Secondly, there’s no way to stop animal abuse if you don’t know what it looks like. Most people know instinctively that kicking a dog is animal abuse, but they might not recognize the subtler forms like leg hold traps, hence it becomes important to recognize these crimes before making any sort of legislation or strict punishments. 
  • Thirdly, by the analysis, we could figure out that the products made from animal skins are one of the biggest reasons why these animals are trapped. Spreading awareness amongst the consumers of those products is extremely necessary, in addition, regulating the selling of these products like done in the USA is also important. Then, wherever it is necessary to use traps, an alternative to them should be used, by inventing modern technology traps which could also reduce the quantum of pain animals get. Countries should imbibe international regulations in their domestic laws.
  • Fourthly, speaking up against animal cruelty can help end animal abuse. The more people talk about it and share education about the humane treatment of animals, the less abuse we’ll see. Hence it becomes very important to set up more and more NGOs and promote various animal rights activists so that the word could be spread and the people could be made aware.
  • Fifthly, awareness is the most important thing when it comes to preventing animal abuse. You can stop it when you see it, but only if you can recognize it. Transition to a vegan diet so you’re not putting cash in the pockets of those who abuse animals. Adopt pets from shelters, start your animal rights group, or volunteer to help organizations using your specific skill set. Raising money to prevent animal abuse is also helpful. 

These are a few recommendations that could help in regulating the use of leg-hold animal traps. 

Steps which can be taken by citizens

What you can do as a general citizen :

  1. Never buy fur or fur trim.
  2. Tell your friends and family that leg-hold traps are still illegal. 
  3. Ask your Member of Parliament to ban all leg-hold traps.
  4. Post our anti-trapping video, Crying Shame, on your Facebook page.
  5. Learn how to open/release a leg-hold trap.

Leg-hold animal traps pose a risk to both targeted and non-targeted animals, therefore it becomes necessary to regulate the use of them and the first step is making laws. Though the situation has improved considerably in many parts of the world as some have discussed above. But still, there’s a long way to go to protect the animals from cruelty completely. There’s a lack of a comprehensive international legal framework and because this is a problem faced around the world, it is essential to have an international framework that is binding on countries and they have to follow it. With time, this topic is receiving more recognition and is being discussed. People should come forward and participate in the fight for animal rights as they do for human rights, neglecting animal cruelty is one of the reasons that such atrocious devices are still not banned at some places. 


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