Trapping Series

The Case Against Neck Snares

Chapter four focuses on neck snare traps. In this chapter, you will learn what neck snares are, how they work, their effects on the environment, and more. Ethical and humane considerations of neck snares will also be explored in detail.

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What Are Neck Snares?


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Snares have been used as a trapping technique for thousands of years. They are used for either live capture or to kill an animal, depending on the trapper’s intent¹. However, there are different factors that affect the success of a snare, despite the trapper’s intention. Here is a resource that outlines the different types of snares, their components, and the various factors that affect their effectiveness. 

In essence, snares are devices that use a loop of wire, stranded wire, or wire rope which is designed to close around the neck, torso, foot, or leg of an animal¹. Snares are commonly placed along a game trail or concealed under dirt or snow¹. An animal would then unknowingly approach the snare and either entangle its neck or limb in the device. In the case of neck snares, the wire cable tightens around the animal with the intent of choking the animal to death¹. As the animal struggles to free itself the snare becomes tighter, and does not loosen due to a locking device.

If the snare is not set correctly, the life-threatening injuries sustained through an animal's struggle to free itself results in a high degree of suffering until the animal is either destroyed by the trapper upon a check or dies by exposure, predation, or from its injuries². 

Why are Neck Snares of Concern?


Surprisingly, killing neck snares are designated as live (not killing) traps according to AIHTS. This was revealed through internal communication with  ECCC who stated “killing neck snare devices are not designated as killing traps, as defined by AIHTS, therefore, such devices are not subject to AIHTS killing trap certification requirements”¹. Please refer to the image below for reference. 

Photo Credit: Internal Communication with Environment and Climate Change Canada

Despite this classification, under Article 7 of AIHTS, trappers are able to use killing neck snares despite their lack of federal regulation¹. In simple terms, this means that individuals can construct and use killing neck snares freely as long as the trap complies with designs approved by the relevant competent authority¹. The relevant competent authorities are government officials that sit on the  CFMC and are in charge of regulating fur harvests in their corresponding province and territory¹. See section 3.1 for a list of each province and territory's relevant competent authority.

The fact that the federal government does not define killing neck snares as killing traps under AIHTS is a major area of concern. If a killing neck snare was a killing trap, this would mean that the trap would be legally required under AIHTS to render 80% of animals caught in a killing trap unconscious and insensible (i.e. dead) in under 300 seconds (or 5 minutes)². It is not clear how this 300 second time limit was determined. Regardless, there is much you can do in 5 minutes, such as empty your dishwasher, do 30 lunges, make a sandwich, drink a cup of coffee, or tidy up your desk or room. This 5 minutes looks a lot different for an animal, caught in a trap, fighting for its life. For instance, in leghold traps, it is common for an animal to chew through its leg or paw to free itself. 

As killing neck snares are classified as live traps by the ECCC, their design does not have the 5 minute killing requirement as defined by AIHTS². However, further investigation of the Government of Alberta’s Wildlife Act indicates that a snare trap is classified as a killing device as long as it tightens on the neck of a fur-bearing animal in order to kill it, where the energy to tighten the snare is provided by the animal³. Within Alberta, the approved snare design is one that is equipped with a loop and locking device that is designed and set to prevent the snare loop from loosening after it has tightened on the animal’s neck³. Testing of different neck snares created by InnoTech Alberta, the FIC  and the CFMC on coyotes in the field from 2017 to 2021 has resulted in a new recommended snare design⁴. Specifically, the new approved snare design has⁴:

“Incorporated a short-arm torsion spring and modified lock, which was found to consistently produce complete occlusion of both carotid arteries in over 80% of coyotes captured in the field by trappers. Integral to this design is also the construction of the cable and the presence of a break-away device to enable release of some non-target animals.”

The CFMC’s explanation of a new snare design shows that they view killing neck snares as killing traps instead of live traps. As this contradicts the ECCC’s classification of neck snares, we asked the CFMC members to clarify if their province or territory classifies neck snares as killing or live traps; they did not respond. However, the Government of Nunavut has confirmed that the use of killing neck snares is banned in their jurisdiction as these traps do not comply with AIHTS⁵. 

This general lack of clarity and subsequent confusion surrounding neck snares laws and regulations on the provincial/territory vs federal level contributes to the need to look at them more closely. For instance, if a neck snare is a live restraining trap, then trappers are legally required to check their traps once every 24 hours if set under the purported authority of a resident fur management license or every 48 hours, in any other case³. However, there are no indications that this legal requirement is followed nor enforced in Canada by the CFMC and relevant Fish and Wildlife offices. If a neck snare is classified a killing trap, then there are no set legal checking requirements for the trap³. Refer to section 1.4 for each province and territories checking requirements for live and killing traps. 

Another area of concern is the indiscriminate nature of neck snares. This means that there are no guarantees that neck snares have been set correctly, captured the correct animal, and killed within the legal requirement. If neck snares are set incorrectly, fur-bearing animals such as wolves and coyotes can be alive and struggling in these killing neck snares for far longer than the designated 5 minute killing limit. Worse yet, these traps are rarely species specific which results in bycatch of unintended wildlife. Our very own pets, such as dogs, can also be caught in neck snares and suffer the same fate as wild fur-bearing animals. Research has shown that between the years of 2017 – 2021, at least 173 companion animals were reported to have been captured in traps across Canada⁶. Numerous other studies have shown that killing neck snares do not consistently capture canids in intended locations and do not humanely kill based on  AIHTS standards⁷ ⁸ ⁹ ¹⁰. An animal can be held by a killing neck snare for hours or days before a trapper is legally obligated to check their trap and release or kill the captured animal¹¹. 

Due to a combination of the above factors, an animal can be left struggling in a neck snare for days. Jellyhead is a common symptom of their struggle for survival. Death by exposure, dehydration, starvation, and predation are common ways animals die when caught by neck snares on trap lines. According to CFMC⁴: 

“The capacity of [neck snare] devices to be considered humane is a function of their ability to obstruct blood supply to the brain through occlusion of cranial arteries, or to obstruct oxygen supply to the lungs through occlusion of the trachea. Based on the opinion of veterinary pathologists involved in development of the protocols, complete occlusion of both carotid arteries was deemed a satisfactory proxy for humane death; invoking rapid, irreversible loss of consciousness, and provided an objective measure of effectiveness to compare among snare designs.”

Evidently, animals suffer when caught in neck snares and this cannot be considered a humane nor ethical way to manage wildlife. Beyond the suffering endured by the individual animal captured in a snare, this method of trapping can also have negative ecosystem-wide effects which is explained further in sections 4.3 and 4.4. It is for these reasons that the legitimacy of neck snares in trapping must be considered in further detail.

Reality of Killing Neck Snares


When an animal is ensnared properly in a killing neck snare, the wire closes around the neck, behind the ears, restricting blood flow from the cordites to the brain. However, if the snare closes around any other part of the animal, numerous injuries can occur. Documented effects of non-ideal captures include jelly head, lacerations, tooth erosion and fractures, joint dislocations, bone fractures, and damage to internal organs¹ ² ³. Snared animals may be left to suffer for hours or days, with non-fatal injuries prone to infection and necrosis³ ⁴. Even when snaring does not cause deep wounds, trapped animals are susceptible to exposure and predation, as well as dehydration and starvation if left for a long period of time¹ ⁵. If an animal is able to escape an improper snare hold, injuries sustained can have longer-term consequences on the survival and reproductive successes of that animal⁴ ⁶.

Ecological Effects of Neck Snares


Beyond the suffering endured by the individual animal captured in a snare, this method of trapping can also have ecosystem-wide effects. Due to the indiscriminate nature of snaring, the accidental removal of key individuals within a group (e.g., lead female or male) can destabilize the entire group, impair hunting efforts, and prevent proper care for young¹ ² ³. Snares alter population demographics, as juveniles are less likely to break free of the wire, thus, disproportionately reducing the number of young individuals within that species⁴. Injuries sustained to animals who have escaped from snares can predispose them to parasitic, prevent normal socialization behaviour, and reduce reproductive success³.

Next Chapter In Series...

The Sustainability of Trapping


Chapter five explores the economic, environmental, and cultural sustainability of trapping.

End of Series

The Sustainability of Trapping

You've reached the end of this series! We hope you feel more informed, and better prepared to discuss the topics covered to help educate those around you.