Still Searching: The Need for International Humane Trapping Standards

By Andrea Fogelsinger

Hunting animals by trapping has long been part of human history.[1] Nearly every country allows the trapping of animals for a number of reasons, including wildlife management, pest control, habitat protection, food, research, relocation, and fur.[2] However, inhumane trapping practices around the globe lead to undue and unnecessary animal suffering. To minimize the negative impacts of this market and trade, international regulations need to be imposed with the intent of preventing and minimizing the suffering of the animals targeted for their fur. While trapping seems to be an inescapable part of the relationship between humans and wildlife, the means that are used to trap animals need vast modifications, and with the increase of globalization, these standards need to occur on an international level. The European Leghold Trap Regulation (Leghold Trap Regulation) and the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS) are key components of this change, but these agreements have their limitations and need to be amended to properly safeguard wildlife against humans.[3]

Methods of trapping were selected to minimize the amount of damage to an animal pelt before sale.[4] Traps can be roughly categorized into two main categories: killing traps and restraining traps. The main concern with killing traps is the amount of time taken for the animal to stop suffering- time to unconsciousness- from the time the trap is triggered.[5] Killing traps are considered humane when the trap minimizes the amount of time between the springing of the trap and the time the animal reaches unconsciousness.[6] Restraining traps are designed to hold the animal until the trapper comes to check the trap and kills or releases the animal.[7] While restraining traps are not designed to kill animals, damage to the tissues of the restrained limb, due to pressure from the trap, often result in the death of the animal after being released.[8]

In the long history of trapping, there have been two very notable regulations on the international level. The first of these agreements was the Leghold Traps Regulation implemented in 1991 by the European Union.[9] The regulation prohibits the use of leghold traps within the European Community and also prohibits the introduction into the Community of pelts and manufactured goods of certain wild animal species originating in countries which catch the animals by means of leghold traps or trapping methods which do not meet international humane trapping standards.[10] The introduction of the Leghold Traps Regulation states that abolishing “leghold traps will have positive effect on conservation status of threatened or endangered species of wild fauna both within and out wide the Community.”[11]

Part of the purpose of the regulation is to protect species and avoid distortion of competition of external trade measures relating to fauna.[12] Specifically putting the protection of species as part of the purpose of the regulation is a significant step in the promotion of animal welfare on the international stage. Additional provisions of the Leghold Traps Regulation, state that steps should be taken to enable the prohibition of importation of furs of certain species when these furs originate in a country where leghold traps are still used.[13] The Leghold Traps Regulation was a significant step towards developing international humane trapping standards, however, the regulation was rendered partially inapplicable. This was due to the language of the regulation that would allow imports from countries that adopted “internationally agreed humane trapping standards.”[14] However, these international standards were never developed, thus, the regulation could not be enforced.[15]

The second important legislation is the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS). AIHTS is an agreement between the European Community, Canada, and the Russian Federation, attempting to establish international humane trapping standards.[16] AIHTS was concluded in 1997, but it took eleven years for it to enter into force.[17] The European Community ratified AIHTS in 1998, and Canada quickly followed suit in 1999.[18] AIHTS finally entered in to force in 2008, when the Russian Federation ratified it.[19]

AIHTS was created and signed as a response to the failure to international humane trapping standards.[20] While AIHTS is labeled as international humane trapping standards, AIHTS is far from the truly global impact needed to improve welfare standards for trapped animals. AIHTS is an agreement between the European Union, Russia, and Canada, with the Agreed Minute partially bringing in the United States.[21] While these countries represent the largest fur producers, four parties is far from the 100 to 200 signatory parties that true international agreements have. For this agreement to truly be considered an international standard, more countries need to become signatories.

AIHTS took significant steps toward developing a standard, providing definitions and adjusting requirements based on the type of trap.[22] AIHTS defines traps as mechanical devices that kill or restrain.[23] This is a much broader definition than that used by the Leghold Traps Regulation from the European Community, which only focuses on traps with jaws that snap shut. AHITS also defines humane trapping methods as “traps certified by competent authorities that are in conformity with the humane trapping standards.”[24] The fact that humane standards were agreed upon by the signatory parties is a huge victory in this area because one attempt to find agreement on internationally humane trapping standards had already failed.[25]

While the Leghold Trap Regulation and AIHTS took significant steps to establish international humane trapping standards, the wide spread international agreement needed to establish a true international standard does not exist.

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[1] Stuart R. Harrop, The International Regulation of Animal Welfare and Conservation Issues Through Standards Dealing with the Trapping of Wild Mammals, 12 J. Envtl. Law 12, §2.1 (2000).

[2] Trapping Regulations, We Are Fur, (last visited Mar. 1, 2016).

[3] Council Regulation (EEC) No. 3254/91, Leghold Traps Regulation, 1991 O.J. (L 208) [hereinafter Leghold Traps Regulation]; and Council Decision 98/142/EC, Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards, 1998 O.J. (L 42) [hereinafter AIHTS].

[4] Harrop, supra note 1, §2.3.

[5] Id. §5.3.3.

[6] G. Lossa, C.D. Soulsbury & S. Harris, Mammal Trapping: A Review of Animal Welfare Standard of Killing and Restraining Traps, 16 Animal Welfare 335, 336 (2007).

[7] Id. at 335.

[8] Id. at 344-46.

[9] Implementation of Humane Trapping Standard in the EU, European Commission, (last updated Mar. 4, 2016).

[10] Id.

[11] Traps Regulation.

[12] Id. pmbl.

[13] Id.

[14] Dena M. Jones & Sheila Hughes Rodriguez, Restricting the Use of Animal Traps in the United States: An Overview of Laws and Strategy, 9 Animal L. 135, 155 (2003).

[15] Id.

[16] AIHTS, supra note 3, pmbl.

[17] Implementation of Humane Trapping Standard in the EU, supra note 9.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] G. Lossa et. al, supra note 6, at 346.

[21] Harrop, supra note 1, §5.5.

[22] See AIHTS, supra note 3.

[23] Id. art. 1.

[24] Id.

[25] G. Lossa et. al, supra note 6, at 346.