Brittany Ginter

Brittany Ginter

Indiscriminate and unforgiving: Snares taking a deadly toll on wildlife in the Sundre area

Two golden eagles and 15 cougars were caught in trappers’ snares in the Sundre area recently. The problem is the traps that caught them had actually been set for wolves.

Two golden eagles and 15 cougars were caught in trappers’ snares in the Sundre area recently. The problem is the traps that caught them had actually been set for wolves.

The cougars were all killed. Despite efforts to save the mated eagles, the female died Tuesday, and it is not certain yet if the male will survive.

The trouble with snares is that they don’t discriminate when it comes to what gets caught in them, and they can be inhumane, says Dwight Rodtka.

The former animal predator control specialist for Alberta Agriculture, who lives near Rocky Mountain House, was on the job 38 years before retiring in 2012. He participated in a recent scientific research paper on snaring.

“The bottom line is snares are inhumane and to date we haven’t seen any modification or any changes that would make them humane. And they have a secondary problem in that they are not target-selective at all, meaning that they catch everything,” said Rodtka.

Wolf and coyote trappers generally put out draw bait, and will set from 50 to as high as 200 snares around it, he said.

“Consequently any moose, deer, elk, cougar, bear, pet, anything that comes by there is very apt to get caught, and of course that includes eagles that feed on carrion to some degree as these two down by Sundre were.”

Rodtka said there are few regulations about snaring, which can be done on Crown and private land (with right-of-access) and adjacent to other properties. Signage does not need to be posted.

Last month a dog was killed when it got caught in a baited snare trap in the Edmonton area. There have been reports over the years of dogs being killed or injured in this manner in Central Alberta as well.

Rodtka said by the time he retired, he was comfortable with the way snaring of predator animals around livestock had evolved and was rigidly controlled by Alberta Agriculture.

A limited number of snares are allowed and they must be checked every day. Managing livestock where there are predators has improved over the years, and the philosophy of killing predators indiscriminately has also changed.

The snares used by trappers fall under Alberta Fish and Wildlife regulations. They are considered to be killing devices because wildlife can be dead in a few minutes.

But Rodtka said many things can go wrong — such as an animal being caught on the wrong part of its body, or weather could cause the snare to not close properly.

“I’ve seen animals snared around the stomach. It’s just a gross mess.”

“Under laboratory conditions … you can kill an animal in 10 minutes. The problem under field conditions you can’t replicate, the kill time can go on for days.”

Rodtka said today’s snares are made of hardened steel cable that cannot be cut with regular side cutters. He recommends people who are out with their pets buy a special pair of cutters available from trapping or tool supply stores.

He said snares now have a diverter on them — the theory being for example that a moose would hit the wire and the snare would then collapse harmlessly. It can still catch the animals’s nose or foot, he said, and he believes the diverter’s effect is minimal.

“The answer with snares in my opinion there’s nothing that can be done that will make them humane. It’s impossible.” He would like to see them phased out, that certified humane traps can be used in their place and they be checked every 24 hours, and that neighbours must be told snaring is in the area.

Rodtka said there’ are hundreds of photographs of snared animals in obvious torturous situations. “It’s the stuff horror movies are made out of.”

“It’s being ignored by the government.”

Brendan Cox, spokesperson for Fish and Wildlife enforcement from Alberta Justice and Solicitor General, confirmed that the eagles and cougars were snared in the Sundre area last month.

The eagles were caught about 12 kms outside of Sundre on an isolated grazing lease.

“At this time we believe that these were legal wolf snares but it is still an open investigation.”

There have been several incidents this year of cougars caught in wolf snares, Cox said. “No laws are broken. It’s an unfortunate thing where the non-target species are caught.”

From the standpoint of Fish and Wildlife officers, they will attempt to educate the trappers about potential ways they might avoid trapping non-target species, Cox said.

Albert John (AJ) Callbeck is the Alberta Trappers’ Association’s Trapper education co-ordinator.

“Most of the snares we use nowadays and the ones we advocate as a trappers association and teach in our education courses are things like break-away devices.”

“Of course nothing is 100 per cent. You are always going to have the odd case like this happening but when people are doing it properly, with the proper training that we provide, these things pretty much don’t happen anymore at all.”

When asked about the 15 cougars being caught and killed, he said: “But to compare that, how many cougars got caught and got released that weren’t reported either” That’s the comparison.

“You can say 15 cougars and it sounds terrible but if you caught 100 cougars that were released with these devices, comparing the two without all the data, it’s really hard to give an opinion. … Are they using those break-away devices?”

The Trappers association had asked the previous PC Alberta government to make them mandatory. Callbeck said it wasn’t being addressed by the current NDP government.

“There’s no economic reason why a trapper would want to catch eagles or other non-targeted species.”

“Everyone compares themselves to Canada when it comes to humane trapping,” Callbeck argues.

The use of kill springs on the snares “makes them extremely humane devices … puts the animal down in a matter of a minute,” he said.

“Nothing is 100 per cent. … this entire season I maybe had one coyote that was caught improperly. The equipment is very very effective.”

“There’s no reason for a trapper to want to catch something and make it suffer … I have to sleep at night too.”

Since snares are classified as a killing device there’s no legal requirement for a trapper to check them at a certain time but its makes sense “economical, ethically and morally” to check them quickly. Most trappers don’t leave them more than a couple days, Callbeck said.

The golden eagles were found trapped in the snares by Fish and Wildlife officers on Feb. 21 after a member of the public called the Report A Poacher line.

Carol Kelly, executive director of the Medicine River Wildlife Centre, said they then brought the birds to a veterinarian who removed a snare from one of the male’s wings, and a snare from the head of the female eagle.

Kelly said it was not common for the wildlife centre to have animals brought in that had been snared but there have been some cases.

She said the birds looked good externally when they came in, however an autopsy on the female after it died showed that she had suffered stress-related organ failure. On Thursday afternoon the male was showing positive signs of being more feisty.