Endangered Species Handbook

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     The Falkland Island Wolf was an extremely tame and fox-like wolf about 3 feet in length, with a short bushy tail 11 inches long (Nowak 1999).  This brown canid had a large skull with a short nose, broad muzzle and small ears. It was the only land mammal native to these subantarctic islands, and it lived on birds, especially geese and penguins (Nowak 1999).  How these wolves arrived on the islands, which are 400 kilometers from the mainland, is not known, but in prehistoric times, natives may have brought them as domestic animals.  Another theory is that sea levels during the Pleistocene might have been low enough to permit their migration from South America (Nowak 1999). 
     Charles Darwin, on his voyage in the Beagle, collected three skin specimens of the Falkland Island Wolf, two of which were presented to the London Zoological Society (Day 1981).  Darwin found these animals very common and tame during his visit in 1833.  They approached visitors to the islands out of apparent curiosity (Day 1981).  According to some accounts, they even came to campsites and carried away supplies (Nowak 1999).  The Falkland Island Wolf was exploited by fur trappers shortly after British settlement of the islands in 1800 (Allen 1942).  The American fur magnate, John Jacob Astor, sent men in 1839 to collect pelts, and great numbers were taken; others were poisoned by sheep farmers.  Darwin noted that they were so easily killed that men could hold out a piece of meat in one hand and stab the animal with a knife held in the other when it came within reach (Day 1981).  By 1870, they had become very rare, and the last individual of this species was killed in 1876 (Allen 1942).
     The Sea Mink of the coasts of northeastern North America was another casualty of the fur trade.  Its brutal extinction was described in Chapter One.  Both this species and the Falkland Island Wolf had very limited distributions, making their populations vulnerable to overexploitation.  Also, both were the objects of intensive hunts for their furs.  Only the very large distributions of some species whose populations were reduced to near-extinction, such as the large spotted cats and many species of otters, saved them from the same fate as the Falkland Island Wolf and Sea Mink.
     A beautiful and delicate animal of North African forests, the Rufous Gazelle, was also killed for its pelt.  One of the largest gazelle species, it was 5 feet long, with foot-long spiraled horns (Day 1981).  Little is known of this species other than sightings of small groups of gazelles in the mountainous forests above the Chelif valley of Algeria.  The only people who were familiar with the Rufous Gazelle were furriers of Oran who saw it as a rare and costly pelt that they acquired every three or four years in the 1920s (Day 1981).  These delicate, reddish gazelles disappeared during this period and, by the 1940s, were considered extinct.  Three specimens were taken by museums (Day 1981).
     Prior to the 20th century, a long list of furbearers were nearly eliminated by the fur and hide trade.  In North America, the Bison, Beaver, River and Sea Otters, Marten, Fisher and Kit Fox, disappeared from most of the continent by the end of the 19th century.  Today, the Beaver has made a comeback, largely as a result of reintroduction, but the other species have greatly reduced distributions and numbers.
     The international fur trade's beginnings in the 18th century endangered one species after another and continued unabated through the 19th century. This period marked the most extensive wildlife slaughter in recorded history. Vast numbers of wild animals which roamed continents and swam ocean waters were reduced to scattered remnants.  Heavy fur trading continued into the 20th century.  During the 1920s, U.S. sales peaked at more than 50 million wild animal pelts (Osborn and Anthony 1922).  The fur trade soon discovered new species to replace those overharvested.
     Trapping of fur animals involves extreme cruelty.  One of the most widely used traps to take fur animals throughout the world is the wire snare.  Loops of strong wire are designed to tighten until they cut through skin and organs.  Leg snares are placed on the ground, and the animal walks into the loop, which then springs and tightens on the leg.  Sometimes the animal is caught by other parts of the body and dies slowly.  Neck snares, set higher up on tree trunks, are intended to grab the animal by the neck and strangle it.  In tropical countries, these snares have been responsible for the agonizing deaths of hundreds of thousands of wild cats, antelope, primates, and perhaps an equal number of non-target animals.  Elephants have blundered into neck snares and become entrapped by a leg--or even the trunk--and died slowly of infection after weeks of pain.  These snares are totally non-selective, and present a major threat to virtually all mammals and many other types of animals, even in national parks.  In Africa, Leopards, civets, and Cheetah are among intended victims snared and often found severely wounded.  Wire snares are legal in many U.S. states, although they have been banned in some.
     Trapping methods in North America, which produces the largest number of wild furs in the world, have changed little since the 18th century.  The steel jaw leghold trap, used to obtain the majority of these wild fur pelts, is extremely inhumane.  Holding the animal's paw or leg tightly, it usually cuts off circulation, and it often breaks bones.  Many animals are so frantic to escape that they chew off their own trapped paws.  These traps were decried by Darwin in an article in the Gardeners' Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette of August 1863.  Darwin described the suffering of animals caught in these traps, "We must fancy what it would be to have a limb crushed during a whole long night, between the iron teeth of a trap, and with the agony increased by constant attempts to escape."  He spoke of rabbits, still alive when the trap was approached, who started up, struggling violently to escape, "shrieking pitiably from terror and the pangs occasioned by their struggles."  Darwin pleaded for a ban on these traps, but it was not enacted in England until the 1950s. 
     Trappers in many U.S. states and Canadian provinces do not have to check their traps for days on end; and in Alaska, Michigan, North Dakota and Montana, there is no time limit for trap-checking.  The trapped animal suffers pain, trauma, hunger and thirst.  There are even cases of trappers failing to return to check traps until the snow cover melted, revealing animals that had taken weeks to die.  Gangrene and fatal infections result from injuries received in these traps to animals, such as pets, that had been trapped for long periods.  Thousands of non-target animals, many of these endangered species, are caught in leghold traps every year.  The AWI publication, Facts About Furs, discusses this and other traps and provides photographic documentation of the suffering animals endure to become fur coats.  In 1994, the World Veterinary Association declared the leghold trap to be inhumane, and many other veterinary organizations, including the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), have condemned it.  The steel jaw leghold trap has been banned in 88 countries, including all European Union countries; but these traps are officially endorsed by U.S. and Canadian wildlife agencies, both federal and regional.  Some U.S. states have restricted or banned use of the steel jaw leghold trap, and in several states, all lethal traps have been banned by voters through Referendums that bypassed state legislatures, which tend to support these traps and refuse to allow votes on their prohibition.  New Jersey bans sale, possession and use of steel jaw leghold traps.  California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington prohibit their use (with exceptions under special circumstances).  In Arizona, these traps are banned on public land (80 percent of land in Arizona is public), with exceptions permitted to protect public health and safety.

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    ©1983 Animal Welfare Institute