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Hikers Encounter Coyote Crushed in Leg-hold Trap
Groups Call for Trapping Reforms
Feb 18 - Winston, NM. Amidst growing public pressure to ban barbaric traps on public lands in New Mexico, last Saturday, a group of Sierra Club hikers stumbled upon a coyote that had its leg crushed in a steel-jawed, leg-hold trap.
“The coyote’s leg was horribly mangled. We saw bone fragments and torn flesh,” Mary Katherine Ray, the trip leader observed. “I am no stranger to trapping issues, but seeing a live animal captured and injured in that brutal device was absolutely grievous and deplorable.”
Five Sierra Club hikers had been exploring the Cuchillo Mountains north of Winston, New Mexico. “Before the encounter, we had been marveled,” Ray recounted. “We had spied elk and hawks. But the beauty of the day completely unraveled when we dropped into a deep arroyo and found the captured coyote, who was struggling with all her might in a leg-hold trap.”
Ray, a Sierra Club volunteer for many years, opposes trapping. Once, her dogs were nearly caught, and she receives reports from other hikers who have not been so lucky. She has been on the anti-trapping campaign ever since.
“The beautiful little coyote just wanted to escape. She kept lunging away from us, and each time was tripped when she got to the end of the trap chain. We realized there was nothing we could do. We just had to walk away and leave her. That is one the hardest things I have ever done. I just felt so helpless and sad.”
The group noted that the trapper did not appear to have been around in days to check the trap as there were no tire marks or footprints in the soft soil or melting snow on the two-track road. The hike ended abruptly after the encounter. No one had the heart to go on. All the participants repeatedly checked for cell phone service on the way back, but the area was too remote.
Later, when in a service area, Ray reached a New Mexico Game and Fish game warden, who agreed to meet her the next day, even on his day off. Another hiker also joined them. When they returned, they discovered that the coyote had vanished, but that the trap remained with its jaws slammed shut. Still, no new vehicle tracks were evident. The coyote had apparently struggled out of the trap and escaped with her badly mangled leg.
The game warden took measurements and noted that the trap failed to identify the trapper—as is required by state regulation. The warden also noted that the trap seemed fairly new and did not appear to have been out for long. No other traps were found in the area. The trapper had, apparently, forgotten the trap, which he or she had left set.
“Because of citizens’ initiatives, body-gripping traps for purposes of commerce or recreation are illegal in both Arizona or Colorado,” stated Wendy Keefover, of WildEarth Guardians. “These devices need to be outlawed in New Mexico too,” she added, “because traps are inherently non-selective and barbaric. They have no place in the modern world.”
In December, the New Mexico State Game Commission voted to open the trapping rules for review after failing to do so since 2006. Ironically, they had been pressured by Ray, on behalf of the local Sierra Club, along with WildEarth Guardians and Animal Protection of New Mexico.
The groups are not only concerned about the dangers traps pose to hikers and non-target wildlife, but also for the populations of the animals which are trapped for the fur market, particularly bobcats and foxes. In December alone, at least two incidents involving traps occurred in northern New Mexico. In one incident near San Cristobal, Arifa Goodman and her two dogs were caught in leg-hold traps, and in another, Maggie Craw’s dog was ensnared.
In New Mexico, there are no limits to how many of these animals trappers can kill nor are there any limits to how many traps they can set out. But trappers are required to check their traps every day.
“On a theoretical level I know what happens to a trapped animal”, Ray said, “but to witness it is unbelievably heartsickening. I’ll never know the fate of that beautiful injured coyote, but her yellow-green eyes haunt me.”
Comments about the trapping rules can be sent to NM Game and Fish at email@example.com
Mary Katherine Ray | Sierra Club – Rio Grande Chapter | 575-772-5655
Wendy Keefover-Ring | WildEarth Guardians | 505.988.9126, Ext. 1162
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