MELBOURNE, Fla. – A type of steel animal trap outlawed in Florida since the 1970s has been seen in Brevard County at least three times in recent weeks, wildlife rescue workers tell News 6.
Florida Wildlife Trappers, a nuisance wildlife removal company, was dispatched to a raccoon that had climbed a tree near Rockledge with an illegal trap clamped to its leg.
“We don’t know how long it was on its foot,” said trapper Ken Hawley, who helped release the raccoon after he and his team removed the spring-loaded device.
The company said it turned over the illegal trap to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
An FWC spokesperson could not immediately provide details about the trap or any pending investigation into the matter.
The same day, a bobcat that may have been caught in a similar leg trap was recovered by Wild Florida Rescue, a Brevard County organization that assists distressed animals.
“The bobcat had its leg completely missing. It appeared it had chewed its leg off,” said Heather Pepe, the rescue organization’s co-founder.
An illegal trap was located nearby, according to Pepe, leading her to believe the emaciated bobcat may have been stuck in it.
“This bobcat should have been 30-plus pounds, even up to 40 pounds, and it was 11 pounds when (a volunteer) weighed it,” Pepe said. “This beautiful animal that was fighting for its life had to be put down because it was suffering that bad.”
Days later, Pepe said one of her organization’s volunteers in Cape Canaveral saw a coyote running away with its foot in a trap. The animal has not been located.
The tubular device is typically planted in the ground with a stake and filled with bait.
When a small mammal places its paw into the tube, a metal ring forcefully squeezes the animal’s leg so it cannot escape.
“This steel trap is illegal because it is so inhumane,” Pepe said.
Offenders who violate FWC’s rules prohibiting unlawful use of traps face up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
FWC will issue permits to legally use steel traps to capture certain animals if the state agency believes it is a threat to public safety or causing property damage.
Pepe suspects the steel traps recently found in Brevard County may have been placed by individuals or out-of-state trappers who might be unaware of the state’s laws.
She recommends consumers who need to remove nuisance wildlife hire a trapper registered with FWC and ask questions about the tools and techniques used.
“There’s no reason down here to use those (illegal) traps,” said Hawley, who instead uses traps resembling cages with lightweight doors that close behind an animal when it enters the trap and steps on a trigger, a device he describes as humane.