A study by Alyson Andreasen et al., published in the Journal of Wildlife Management earlier this year, examined the fate of cougars caught in leghold traps and lethal snares set for other furbearers, particularly bobcats. The results were grim.
Two GPS-collared female cougars were found dead with wounds clearly associated with foothold traps. The researchers believe one was caring for young. She escaped from the trap but left a paw behind, made no large kills afterwards, and died three weeks later. A second was released, but eventually lost two toes from the trauma and starved. Some cougars, upon release, engaged in reduced movement and apparently had to rely on more readily available food sources—domestic sheep and discarded bones from a cattle ranch. The authors concluded that “capture in non-target foothold traps decreases survival of adult female cougars directly by causing injuries that eventually result in mortality, and indirectly by increasing susceptibility to other forms of mortality.”
The research was conducted in Nevada, which provides trappers 96 hours before they must return to steel-jaw leghold traps and other restraining devices they have set. Within the study area, mortality as a result of accidental capture in traps was the second highest killer of adult cougars, behind only hunting. Trappers are supposed to inform the state game agency when this happens, but within the study area, nearly a quarter of such incidents were not reported. The authors called on regulatory oversight agencies to address the traumatic and often deadly impact of nontarget trapping on cougars.