Gin Traps: Words For The History Books

Gin Trap: A mechanical trap designed to catch an animal using spring operated jaws either with or without a serrated edge or teeth.

There is perhaps only one thing missing from this definition of a gin trap. What could that be? Well, possibly the most important detail of all that the use of such a device is, and has been illegal since 1958. However, here we find ourselves nearly 60 years on, in the first month of 2017, and this trap is still being used to catch and trap animals. There was a stark reminder of this on Saturday 21st January, when a fox was discovered in York, with his lower jaw trapped in an illegal gin trap. When the fox was finally caught the following day by North Yorkshire Police and ‘Band of Rescuers North’, he was taken to the local vet for treatment. The injuries the fox had suffered at the hands of the illegal and outdated trap were simply horrific; the foxes jaw had been crushed so that it was hanging on by only the flesh. Unfortunately, due to his injuries and the pain and suffering he was experiencing, the male fox had to be put to sleep. North Yorkshire police are now calling for information on the incident, with anyone found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal facing a maximum £20,000 fine and/or six months in prison (not enough!)

Gin traps are illegal for several reasons. One, because they cause extreme and unnecessary pain and suffering to any animal caught and two, because they are totally indiscriminate in their choice of victims. In 2015, there was a story of a 2 year old pregnant pet cat who lost her leg to a gin trap and an otter that was killed in Ireland as a result of a set gin trap. Unfortunately, those stories are just a taster of the destruction that these traps can cause. Dogs, cats, livestock, birds of prey, mammals and humans can all fall victim to gin traps, with the power and force of the metal jaws of such a trap being capable of removing a child’s hand.

If you were to type ‘gin trap’ into a search engine, the first hits that come up would probably include pages documenting the history and uses of gin traps and sites where you can buy ‘vintage’ or ‘ornamental’ gin traps (each to their own). However, sales of such contraptions assumes that those buying them have nothing but good and innocent intentions. Sadly, as is obviously the case, this is not the situation with some individuals. Gin traps are known to have once been popular with farmers and gamekeepers to trap predators, but despite their illegality, it would seem that some individuals still think them appropriate for use, despite the obvious risks and monumental cruelty associated with them.

Gin traps are thought to have originated sometime in the 16th century. Some may argue the barbarity of gin traps echoes the brutality of such an age in history, a time when beheading, hanging drawing and quartering, flogging and branding with red hot irons, could be used to punish what we may now consider the less serious of crimes. Luckily, the cruelty of such practices were recognised and although some of these methods disappeared before others, they have all been confined to the history books. Unfortunately for our wildlife, there are those who consider animals as ‘lesser’ beings and believe that a brutal and cruel trap that is illegal, is still appropriate for purpose.

Using gin traps is not only illegal, but reckless and barbaric and no animal should have to experience the suffering that this trap can inflict. It would be fair to assume that those who use such contraptions do not care for the animals they are trapping, but what about if they trap a human? What damage could they cause then? Blood loss? Infection? Amputation? Death? A little dramatic? No. Realistic? Yes. Whether you be bird, mammal, reptile or amphibian, gin traps are designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to catch and hopefully, to kill.

Gin traps are an illegal (I think I mentioned that) and historic mechanism and it is time they were left where they belong, in the history books.

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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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