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Changes in fur trapping needed to protect grizzly bears

A new study published in the journal Wildlife Society has called attention to a small number of grizzly bears in southeastern British Columbia who are missing toes on their front paws due to accidental amputations caused by body-gripping traps used to catch a variety of smaller animals such as martens or weasels. While the number of bears with missing toes is not large, it is sufficient to raise concerns and call for changes in fur trapping practices.

Losing their front paw toes can cause significant problems for grizzlies, making it harder to dig for food or defend themselves. By discussing the issue with trappers, Indigenous communities, conservation officers, wildlife managers, and scientists, as well as comparing data from other areas close to British Columbia, the researchers identified a pattern to bear toe loss and even confirmed reports of grizzly bears that were killed with small mammal body-gripping traps still on their feet.

To test their theory, they set up four traps – rigged so they could trigger but not fully close – and monitored them with remote cameras for two weeks. The observations revealed that grizzly bears visited all four traps, and sprung two of them.

“Even with the small sample, it was clear that baited traps attracted bears and that bears set off the traps to get the food. We have pictures and videos showing the bears investigating the traps and manipulating the boxes with their paws,” said study lead author Clayton Lamb, a wildlife scientist at the University of British Columbia

According to the scientists, it is not the initial snap of the trap that causes bears to lose their toes, but the prolonged duration of the trap stuck on their foot, which leads to infection and ultimately necrosis.

To avoid as much as possible such incidents, Dr. Lamb and his colleagues suggest an official delay of the beginning of the marten and weasel trapping season from November to December to buy the bears time to fully hibernate.

“Shifting the start of most trapping that coincides with the active bear season would eliminate the overlap, and trappers should generally be able to avoid accidentally catching bears,” Lamb explained. “This not only reduces the risk to the bears, but also prevents the traps from being destroyed by the bears.”

“The most viable solution to the amputated toe issue requires that bears’ feet do not enter these traps at all,” he added. “The solutions we present have various pros and cons, and we hope this work can help policy-makers choose a solution that will resolve the amputated toe issue while ensuring trappers continue to have the important opportunity to trap furbearers.”

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer  

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