Trapping and Relocating is NOT Humane

If you really want to be a wildlife angel, trapping them and moving them is not the way to go. This image courtesy Dover Publications.

AS THE WEATHER GROWS COLD, wild animals will be looking for places to spend the winter. This often brings a spate of complaints about animals who have taken up residence in basements, walls, attics, and other locations where homeowners do not want them.

Sadly, a popular solution to such problems is to use a non-lethal trap to capture the animal, then give it a one-way drive to a location far away. Many animal lovers use this technique in preference to lethal methods of control, believing that it's humane. I'm stunned by how often people brag to me about having given an animal a "one-way trip" or a "long drive," expecting me to congratulate them on how kind they've been.

I try not to be unkind in return, as I know they meant well. But you know what they say about good intentions. Consider the following:

1. Most animals are territorial. They establish territories around the areas where they expect to live, raise young, and hunt for food, and they do not willingly share those territories with other animals of the same species.

2. Any territory that is capable of supporting a wild animal of a particular species--for instance, a raccoon--probably already has one residing there. If there is no raccoon already living in a particular territory, it's probably because there isn't enough shelter, food, or water to support a raccoon.

In practice, this means that when you trap an animal that is currently living in your territory and relocate it elsewhere, you're probably doing one of two things: Either, a., you're moving the animal into a territory where it will not be able to survive or, b., you're moving the animal into a territory that already belongs to another animal. If the latter is true, the animals will almost inevitably fight; one will likely die or be severely injured. At the very least one animal will end up homeless.

On top of that, whenever you transport wild animals from one territory to another, you always run the risk of transporting diseases or parasites. So there may be an additional risk to other animals living in the area.

And finally, the chances are that your effort will have been a complete waste. If you do nothing to prevent a species from entering your home, sooner or later another member of that species will reappear in the attic, the basement, the wall, or wherever the previous one was living. Animals are always looking for places to live--if you provide suitable living space, sooner or later that space will be occupied.

None of this is humane. It's not even effective. What is the humane, effective solution to human-animal conflicts? It's what the Humane Society of the United States calls conflict resolution. A key element is exclusion--that is, humanely preventing animals from entering areas where they are not wanted and, if they are already living where they are not wanted, humanely evicting them. Exclusion is not always easy; sometimes it can even be expensive. But it is the key to long-term, humane prevention of conflicts with animals.

Every species is different, so effective exclusion starts with correctly identifying the animal that is causing the problem. (You would be surprised at how often people get this one wrong, then are mystified as to why their exclusion efforts don't work.) The next step is to understand the species well enough to be able to humanely evict it and/or exclude it. A great resource to help you do that is the HSUS book Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living With Wildlife. The HSUS website has fact sheets on many of the animals that homeowners complain about most.

Another good resource is my friend Russell Link's book Living With Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest; although it's focused on PNW wildlife, much of the information would be useful anywhere in northern North America.

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