Article originally published in the Vancouver Sun.
Aneurin Bevan, a minister in the Britain’s postwar Labour government, once described his Conservative party opponents as “lower than vermin.” It was perhaps the ultimate insult, considering that vermin are, as one dictionary puts it, “noxious, objectionable, or disgusting animals collectively, especially those of small size that appear commonly and are difficult to control.”
But vermin is just a label for wildlife, usually rats and mice, whose efforts to survive and thrive conflict with human efforts to do the same. Rodents don’t aim to cause us trouble but sometimes they do. Of course, being humans, we have employed science and our industrialized might to create an array of weapons, including traps, electrocution and various poisons, to keep them at bay.
Even animal lovers see little alternative to using lethal methods to keep their homes free from rodent infestation. Coexisting with rats in your kitchen is a bit of stretch for even the most compassionate among us. Preserving public health and safety and protecting food in homes, restaurants, warehouses, etc. are paramount.
But must our conflict with rodents be the cold, pitiless, all-out war on “vermin” that it seems to be? Should lethal methods always be the first choice and, if they are, shouldn’t they be as humane as possible? Consider one of the main products sold by major Canadian retailers to deal with rodents: glue traps. These are boards made of wood, plastic or stiff cardboard coated with an adhesive on which rodents become stuck by their feet or fur. They are anything but humane.
A 2003 Oxford University study found that rodents caught in glue traps “are likely to experience pain and distress” and “forceful hair removal, torn skin and broken limbs.” The study states that when boards are collected, the rodents are often squealing. A pest control operative interviewed for the study described the animals to the researchers as “screaming their heads off.”
According to the study, the pest control industry recommends glue traps be checked every eight or 12 hours but, when used by the public, the length of time may be several days.
New Zealand and Ireland have banned glue traps and, after a campaign by animal advocates, a number of big wholesalers in the U.K. agreed to stop selling them. The Vancouver Humane Society has asked Walmart Canada, Canadian Tire, Rona and Home Depot to stop carrying the traps, but none of the companies has responded.
There are alternatives to glue traps, but none of the options is ideal. Rodenticides, for example, are known to poison hawks, owls and other animals that eat rodents. The least inhumane lethal method is the snap trap, which is best purchased from specialty pest control companies. Live traps can be used, with the rodent released elsewhere, but animals may return if released nearby or may suffer if relocated to areas without adequate food. There is also the risk of animals being left for long periods in unchecked live traps.
The need for these methods can be greatly reduced through prevention and exclusion measures such as keeping garbage and compost secure, ensuring bird feeders don’t spill and sealing gaps where rodents can enter the home.
The B.C. SPCA has published a wealth of information on such measures on its website and also recently launched AnimalKind, a wildlife and rodent control accreditation program for pest control companies. The program accredits companies committed to using animal welfare-based standards approved by the B.C. SPCA. To date, two companies, AAA Wildlife Control in the Lower Mainland and Alternative Wildlife Solutions on Vancouver Island, have been accredited. The accreditation standard prohibits the use of glue traps except under certain extreme circumstances and with a list of other conditions that companies must meet.
There are no easy answers when it comes to dealing with human/wildlife conflicts but we can take steps to minimize animal suffering and use the most humane methods possible. Glue traps are certainly not one of these methods and consumers should avoid them. In addition, they should urge retailers to stop selling them.