Humane Live-Trapping of Red Squirrels (Summer 2009) By: Zahirul Islam, Curtis Bosson and Rudy Boonstra

February 6th, 2012 | Research

These five traps are under evaluation for their humaneness to trap red squirrels (Source: C. The red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) is a tree squirrel whose distributional range in North America covers the entire boreal forest of Canada as well as the mixed coniferous-deciduous forests on either side of the Canadian Rockies. These squirrels are bold, highly vocal, and appear to have boundless energy as they move rapidly through trees, aggressively defending their territories and challenging all intruders(Including humans) with their calls. In Canada they are legislated as a furbearer and so are commonly kill-trapped for fur as well as are live-trapped when they invade

International and Canadian federal laws require that animals suffer minimal pain and suffering when they are trapped. In the fur industry this has lead to the development away from foot-hold traps toward instant kill traps such as snap traps or conibear traps. In contrast, no scientifically based guidelines exists to regulate the type of live-trap used and care of the animal while in the trap to minimize pain, suffering and stress. These may occur because of lack of food, water, exposure to the elements (rain, cold, or sun), exposure to predators, and confinement, all of which may intensify with increased duration of captivity.

Among the different cage/box traps on the market, which ones are the more humane? To answer this question the Canadian Association for Humane Trapping solicited and approved a research proposal from Curtis Bosson, experienced in the non-invasive measurement of stress hormones, and Zahitul Islam, a freelance wildlife researcher. Dr, Rudy Boonstra (University of Toronto) will provide advice, consultation, and training to the team, as well as provide the use of his wildlife stress research lab at the University of Toronto. The research team will use the stress response to measure the effect of box traps on red squirrels.

The stress response allows animals (including humans) to escape or prepare for stressful situations by increasing their heart rate, breathing rate, energy mobilization, and altering their immune response. The positive effect of this is that usually survival is increased over the short-term (successful escape from a predator). The usual negative effect is that down the road health is degraded if the stressor becomes chronic. However, in extreme cases even acute stress can have a negative impact on survival, either immediately or later, if it is severe enough.

The research focuses on indicators that are associated with the acute stress response caused by stressors of hort duration (cortisol in blood – a stress hormone, blood glucose – a measure of energy mobilization, and white blood cell numbers – a measure of immunity). These indicators change rapidly within 3-4 minutes after a stressor. Stress in trapped red squirrels may be affected by a number of variables and we will vary two of them 1) type of live trap an 2) duration in the trap. To assess the former, five common live traps have been selected and squirrels will be trapped with each of them. To determine the latter, we have devised and attached a timer to each trap that starts timing as soon as the trap closes.

The Research protocol has been approved by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) animal care committee as well as by the OMNR Peterborough district office overseeing the research site. We also have the kind support of the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority overseeing the trapping site, the Ganaraska forest. Field activity began in early May, 2009 and last for about 8 weeks within the quieter parts of Ganaraska forest. So if you are planning a trip to Ganaraska during that time and happen to meet us you will understand if we are acting a bit squirrelly.

In 2006, the last year for which figures are available, 54,096 squirrels were trapped, in Canada, putting squirrels in 4th place behind muskrat, beaver and, marten, and just ahead of raccoon.

Source: Statistics Canada