24 February 2009


from 1978-1982 i was caretaker for canelo hills cienega, a nature conservancy preserve in southern arizona. my then-wife, infant son and i were fortunate to live on the property, in a two-story adobe ranchhouse built in 1882. we owned two dogs, which were kept in a fenced yard, and three cats, which stayed indoors at night.

one fine day, one of the dogs, shona, who was part rhodesian ridgeback, escaped the yard and disappeared. they'd managed this from time to time, and were always within sight or sound of our voices when we called them back. this time, no response. by dinnertime we were downright worried, afraid she might have become lost in the surrounding national forest.

shona was missing for three days. we phoned neighbors, we walked and drove the ridges and draws of the oak/juniper woodland, to no avail. our other dog, cisco, part terrier and part chihuahua (if you can envision a 30 lb. chihuahua) was morose and lonely without his best friend. even the cats picked up on the family mood, and were unusually subdued.

on the third day, i had our truck out in the forest, gathering dry downfall for winter firewood, and a movement caught the corner of my eye. there in a sandy draw, in the shade of a juniper, was shona, caught securely in the jaws of a leg-hold trap. she was mute and quivering, fearful and dehydrated and disoriented. i carefully
freed her from the trap -- thankfully i was wearing leather gloves -- and took her home. luckily she hadn't struggled, so there were no broken bones in her foreleg, though the swelling and pain took a week or so to go down.

finding her that day had been sheerest chance. if i'd chosen another draw, another hillside for wood gathering, she would have died of starvation, or been killed by coyotes. i learned that under arizona law at that time, licensed trappers were supposed to check their traplines every 24 hours. whoever set shona's trap apparently
didn't care about the pain of the animals he might catch, nor the condition of their pelts if they struggled. i broke the law myself, and remain proud of it to this day, when i dug up his trap and buried the whole thing deep at an undisclosed location, where it would never harm another animal.

to me trapping is a lazy, cowardly, cruel and heartless way to make a living.
leg-hold / foot-hold traps, cyanide traps and drowning traps are especially vicious inventions. they are placed and often baited where any creature, wild or domestic, might get caught. the trapped animal knows searing pain and panic and shock, and will often chew its own foot off to escape, or die trying.

i have no use for commercial trappers, including those who employ live traps. their methods are despicable, and their goal, making a handsome income from the fur industry, cannot be justified. 'course, i have no use for most hunters, either, particularly "sport" hunters who go out to get a trophy, prove their manhood, and as a bonus put a little meat on the table. i make exception for those who are truly subsistence hunters, who would otherwise go hungry. but even they should, in my view, give their prey a chance by hunting with bow and arrow (thereby having to learn the lives and habitat of their prey, not to mention having to practice woodcraft and stealthy stalking techniques to get close enough for a clean shot.) shooting an animal from several hundred yards with a high-powered rifle and a scope isn't so much hunting as it is hi-tech target practice. and don't even get me started on "canned" hunts, wherein the highest bidders get to shoot trophy animals like bison in a fenced-in area.

for all the rest, i say this -- you can derive equal satisfaction by hunting with a camera. you're still enjoying the outdoors, you're still having to put your experience and fieldcraft to the test, and you still get to bring home something precious -- lasting images of animals in their natural setting. and the animals get to stay alive!! imagine.

i realize that there are special circumstances where a predator acquires a taste for livestock, and must be relocated or killed. it is possible to do this humanely, with minimal suffering. i have no argument there, so long as the work is done by a game warden or other licensed professional. and of course, if it's your life or the predator's, you have the right to defend yourself. but what i'm addressing is an industry that flourishes by harvesting wild animals for their fur, so that wealthy individuals can wear chic coats. i'd like to see those end users caught in a leg-hold trap for a few days. they might find their sensitivities altered.

you can learn more about trapping and the issues surrounding it
here, and also here.

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