To Live Trap or Not to Live Trap?
Live traps, also known as catch-and-release or Havahart traps, may seem like a good fix to a human-wildlife conflict at first glance. After all, they allow a person to remove an animal from a problematic location without killing it, and there's a size of livetrap for almost every backyard animal. However, there is more to this control method than what meets the eye, and it is almost never the best or most humane solution.
Address the Root Cause First
Simply removing an animal from the area, whether by live trap or lethal control, is only a temporary solution to a human-wildlife conflict. Most often, the first two steps you should take are exclusion and attractant removal. If you have rodents in your garage, for example, inspect the perimeter and ceiling carefully for entry points, seal off the entry points, and ensure that attractants such as birdseed are stored securely in rodent-proof containers. If you live trap the rodents (or use lethal control), even if you do succeed in removing all of them, more will come in to take their place unless you prevent entry and eliminate what is attracting them.
Don't Live Trap Large Animals
Capturing, transporting, and releasing animals the size of or larger than a housecat, such as raccoons, is dangerous for people who are not properly trained and vaccinated against rabies. Hiring a company to trap the animals, on the other hand, is safer but doesn't actually lead to the animal's survival. Because it is illegal in California and other states to relocate any animals with live traps, wildlife control operators are required to euthanize the animals they catch instead. Don't attempt to live trap raccoons or similar sized animals yourself, and don't hire a company to relocate animals from your yard- instead, work to eliminate the problem, not the animal. For example, if you are concerned that a wild animal could harm your cat, bring your cat indoors at night (or build an outdoor structure to house an outdoor cat at night). If animals are damaging your garden, remove ripe or rotting fruit right away and put chicken wire around your plants. We share our neighborhoods with wildlife, and simply having a raccoon, skunk, or opossum in your yard is not necessarily a problem.
"Live" Doesn't Necessarily Mean "Humane"
Many people choose to live trap animals because they equate "live" with "humane." However, even the animals that are not euthanized but truly relocated (such as rodents that people trap without the help of a professional) will likely suffer in the process. For example, if traps are exposed to the elements and/or not checked frequently, animals can become dehydrated or suffer heat-related problems. And regardless of how long the animal stays in the trap, the release itself can actually pose the greatest challenges to its survival. Taking an animal out of its home and placing it in an unfamiliar area can cause it to have trouble adapting to the new habitat. This can ultimately lead to an inhumane death.
Only Relocate Animals Out of Enclosed Spaces
While it is generally not a good idea to relocate animals, one potential exception is if you have animal-proofed a building, shed, chicken coop, or other structure and inadvertently trapped a rat or mouse inside it. In this case, you generally have two options: relocation and snap traps. (Read why poison is not a good idea here.) If you choose to relocate the rodent, make sure that the live trap is placed in a room that cats and/or dogs do not have access to, check the trap frequently, and relocate the rodent no further than your own backyard. Also, consider that rodents that have been living inside a weatherproof structure may not adapt well to suddenly living outside, and may die of exposure or predation.