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Victims of Vanity: The Investigation

In early 2011 Born Free USA and Respect for Animals conducted a landmark investigation inside the world of fur trapping. We uncovered for the first time in more than a decade the shocking cruelty and brutality involved in the trapping of wild animals for the fur trade. The images and videos we present with our investigation are graphic and disturbing. Please use discretion in viewing.

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Killing Techniques

"[The trapper] says sometimes trapped animals, like raccoons, will die not of drowning but of hypothermia if they're in the water too long in a trap that doesn't drown them."

"It takes six minutes to finally kill the raccoon. It is repeatedly hit round the head and forced under water by [the trapper's] combination stick and boot, but it keeps wriggling free only to get bashed over the head again when it emerges from below. It fights for its life, at one point grasping the stick by its paws, but finally [the trapper] manages to get his boot over the raccoon's neck and pins him to the river bottom where it slowly drowns. It's an incredibly inhumane way to die and was very distressing to watch though [the other trapper] didn't seem too bothered by it. [The trapper] shows his anger during this period and I think how many other animals have experienced a fate like this in his 50 years of trapping."

"Under one log sitting on the frozen creek is a gray fox — it appears almost asleep but is shivering and its back leg is caught up in the trap, which is dangling halfway between the log and the frozen water. Unlike the red fox, which go crazy on approach, these beautiful creatures are much more passive, almost accepting their fate. [The trapper] uses the restrainer to get control of the fox, before crushing his knee down on its chest. He says the size 3 this fox is trapped in "is hard on the fox."

"After a couple of minutes [the trapper] throws the animal to the side. ... I look back at the fox in the snow and still see it's breathing. ... [The trapper] says it's not dead and then starts the same process again. As he is doing this he says how difficult the gray fox are to kill."

"[The shopkeeper] said that one of his [the trapper's] coon dogs had been caught by a coyote and injured. His remedy was to go to a pet store, buy a live rat then wrap it in live in barbwire to a tree while setting a trap beneath it. When he caught the coyote [the shopkeeper] said he pretty much tortured the life out of it."

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Trapped Animal Injuries

"On close inspection I can see that the raccoon is missing a front paw — it looks very much like it's been in a trap before and [the trapper] says this is the case and it escaped without its paw. He says the paw goes numb below the trap and then they can chew them off."

"Two foxes (females) are caught today. The first was caught in one of the illegal cable snares. ... The red fox is pretty tangled up amongst the brush and has a prominent mark around the neck fur, where the cable has dug in. While the fox hasn't died from the snare in this instance it surely would have soon. The second fox is caught on another farm in a size 1¾ foothold trap that the trapper often uses for trapping fox and coyote. It is very panicky when we drive up. It has dug out a big circle of earth around it as it has tried vainly to get free from the trap."

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Non-Target Animals

"I ask about whether he catches any non-target species in his traps and he says it happens."

"In one of [the foothold traps] we find a fox squirrel, caught by both front paws. [The trapper] released the fox squirrel from the trap. Both of its front legs are stripped down to the flesh by the trap. He doesn't usually use fox squirrel, though others will use the fur, so lets it go. At the same time he says it probably won't survive and that seems the case as it limps off slowly."

"On another farm we find a domestic cat that is dead in one of his cable snares. It has been strangled by one of the cables [the trapper] has set. [The trapper] says he catches a few cats but usually in the foothold traps."

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Illegal Practices

"[The trapper] is only allowed a license for one bobcat per season, I'm told, but he's still got traps set out for these even though he's already captured a bobcat this year."

"It is only in the last couple of years that 'non-killing' cable restraints (snares) have been allowed for trapping in Pennsylvania. [The trapper] doesn't hold them being much good, with few animals getting trapped in the heavier cables, so often uses the illegal thinner cables."

"It's soon apparent when checking the land traps that a considerable number of cable restraints are of an illegal type. [The trapper] says they're thinner than those legally allowed and are designed to kill rather than restrain. We find a cable restraint that's broken — [the trapper] says a whitetail deer was caught in the trap, judging from the fur, but has broken free. Cable restraints must be set so that they don't catch deer."

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The Fur Business

"In the pickup [the trapper] tells me of how he sometimes teaches trapping days put on by the local district. He said they're pretty popular and last year they had 70 kids wanting to get into trapping and a few women."

"[The trapper/fur dealer] thinks that muskrat numbers are down — possibly due to over-trapping. He's not fond of the guys who trap just for the 'numbers' and these are the guys who often steal others' catches as well as trap everything out, so it leaves nothing. However, he still buys off these guys."

"[The trapper] says he caught a female mink in the single long spring, saying he wished it were a male because there are not enough females about." (Possibly alluding to them being trapped out.)

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