Witnessed – The reality of snares. A first hand account

Warning: This article contains distressing images.

During my years as a Field Researcher and investigator I have come across many snares across Scotland. Some of these snares have numbered over thirty and have been placed across the whole width of a woodland, with walls of branches placed carefully between each snare so the mammal has no choice but to go through a snare to go on its way. Not so long ago in Scotland, it wasn’t uncommon to find snares set by fences with the full knowledge by the snare operators that there would be a good chance that any animal caught in these wire nooses may jump the fence and hang themselves. It was only when the law was changed, to force the end of such a practice, that I began finding far fewer snares set in a way that an animal could hang or suspend itself.

During my treks through the countryside, gathering material to help others understand the cruelty and indiscriminate nature of such devices, I have also found animals such as pink footed and Canadian geese dumped in the middle of a ring of snares as bait, to lure animals to their deaths in these wire traps. These have the name of ‘stink pits’, in which dead animals are placed in a pile on the ground, to entice animals towards what they think is an easy meal but are unaware that snares have been placed around this mass of decomposing misery of dead animals. Other dead animals being used as bait that I have found and recorded in stink pits have included cats, adult foxes, and their cubs, as well as deer, sheep, pheasant, partridge, grouse, crows, rooks, magpies, jays, ducks, trout, salmon, and crabs. Sometimes the animals have even been thrown over the branches of trees within the circle of snares, like some macabre decorated Christmas tree. This allows for the smell of the decomposing animal to travel further, attracting more victims to the wire traps. Of course, even non-target species, such as otter, cat, dog, and pine marten would be tempted.

Often, the snares that I find throughout Scotland, and almost exclusively on shooting estates, are empty, waiting for their next victims, but it hasn’t been unusual to actually come across animals that are still caught in these wire nooses, either by the neck or the snare may have caught the animal around its body.

Where an animal has been caught and I have discovered them, either still alive or dead, each tragic scene tells its own story of struggle and suffering and Such efforts and battles to free themselves may have gone on for hours or even for days.

In some cases, the ground around the animal has been dug deep by the victim of the snare, in its vain attempt to claw its way out from the trap. Some trenches and holes even going feet deep into the earth. Foliage is trampled and broken about them too. Branches around these animals have also been chewed and bitten right through, either in frustration from being unable to escape or believing that biting anything about them may help their escape. If the snare has been by a tree, then the bark is often ripped away and claw marks can be seen on the naked trunks as the animal has tried to pull itself free. Large wooden fence posts, some measuring 8” in diameter, have been found gnawed halfway through, again in desperation by the animal to get free.

The mental stress of an animal being caught in this way cannot be forgotten either. The animals, both alive and dead, have also shown injuries of their struggles too. If the animal hasn’t choked itself, suffocated or caused itself catastrophic internal injuries within the first minutes or hours of struggle, then from just the constant straining and movement of the animal against the wire, much like a wire cheese cutter, this thin steel cable can slowly cut its way through the skin and into the muscle, either around the neck or the abdomen of the animal, be it a fox, badger, or rabbit, or even otter and pine marten and, all too frequently, cats and dogs have been the victims too.

Their paws may also be bleeding as a cause of frantic and constant digging at the ground and objects around them. The live animals are either exhausted or terrified when I find them, and the dead ones, we can only guess as to what terrible suffering that they must have gone through to have been killed by the snare trap.

None of these incidents that I have witnessed ever truly leave your memory, such as the two young foxes, almost certainly sibling brothers, that I found caught in snares just meters from one another. Both had been caught around the middle of their bodies. One fox had already died and the other was laying still nearby within the deep heather of the grouse moor. The fox wasn’t just sitting like a good boy on a dog lead, waiting for someone to come along and kill it, as the operators of these snares would like us to believe. The evidence told a completely different story of a terrified and determined young animal that had put up a violent struggle to break free of the wire which had tightened around his waist, even though the snare was supposed to be free running and loosen when the animal stopped pulling on it. As this fox stood in front of me, I could see the snare had cut through the skin and muscle below and I could see part of its stomach or other organs though the hole of his abdomen.

However, amongst all these discoveries of horror, tragedy and suffering, there is one such incident I regularly recall when I discuss the reality of snares with people, and that is the badger I found on a grouse moor estate in South Lanarkshire.

It was 4pm when I found the badger. She was an adult, and I came across her, slumped on her front and I could see instantly that she had been there for at least two long days and nights. The thick post nearby had been gnawed almost all the way through, which would have even taken a beaver an enormous effort to achieve. The ground around the badger was no longer grass and greenery, but a large circle of earth and mud. The circle of destruction reached out from the badger for as far as her front paws would have stretched, as she would have strained at the snare around her middle and dug like mad, clawing at anything she could. As I approached what I thought was a dead animal, she suddenly moved and looked up at me. She then struggled to her feet and gave out a whimpering growl. I moved back and immediately began to consider the options of helping this animal. As I did so, the badger, again, slumped to the ground and buried her nose into the earth.

There was no phone signal at the time and so I climbed up a hill to try and get help. I managed to call the SSPCA, and they said that they would try to get to me ASAP. The area was very remote, with no tracks or roads nearby and so they would have to park and walk across the hills. I returned to the snared badger and as I was waiting, I felt that this animal’s suffering and the cause of its suffering had to be recorded for everybody to see just what these wire snares were capable of. This was my job anyway, to gather the evidence in the hope that it would help to make a change. I filmed and photographed the badger, keeping some distance so as not to disturb her. For several hours, as day became night, I sat with this badger, she occasionally lifted her head and stared at me with her tiny eyes and I looked straight back at her, and I don’t mind admitting of having a tear or two in my eyes as I did. I knew help was on its way and soon we could get this animal out and treated by a vet.

It was pitch black when members of the SSPCA arrived and we immediately got into action. A grasp was carefully placed over the head of the badger. The idea was to carefully lift her and see where the snare was and then cut it away. We would then place the badger into a carrier box and get her help as soon as we could. As the badger was slowly lifted, we all realised, almost at once, that it was too late. The wire had cut the animal’s abdomen wide open, deep into the muscle, and its intestines fell out onto the ground. This was why she had not moved, keeping her body close to the ground whilst we had waited for help. It was incredible that she was even alive and probably been that way for the longest time. She was put to sleep with an injection on the spot, her miserable last few days of suffering was finally over.

Finding wildlife caught in snares, and in other circumstances connected to persecution for that matter, and reading the scene around that animal can tell you a lot if you know what to look for. One such case was in August of this year, 2023, and although not as big in stature as the badger from South Lanarkshire, nevertheless, the evidence that presented itself told me that this animal, a rabbit, had certainly suffered to a similar degree as that badger, but on this occasion, had died shortly before being found.

The story was a simple and common one, but nevertheless was responsible yet again for causing unimaginable pain and suffering to yet another victim of the bird shooting industry. The rabbit had walked into the legally set fox snare and the noose closed around it; the animal then struggled violently. The branches that had been carefully placed vertically into the ground to make a wall either side of the snare, helping to direct the victim into the trap, had got wrapped up around the snare wire as the animal began to violently kick and struggle to free itself. Some of these sticks had tightened hard around the back legs and the front paw of the rabbit. The snare wire got more tangled around the branches the more the animal struggled, and the sticks tightened even further, like clamps. This struggle will have gone on for hours. The ground around the dead animal was churned up too, another sign of a violent struggle.

The signs of suffering could not have been clearer. Where the back legs of the rabbit had been kicking between two sticks that had tightened around the rabbit’s legs, the skin and flesh had been rubbed down to the bones. The same with one front leg that had also been clamped tightly by two sticks, secured there by the twisted wire of the snare. The struggle had caused these sticks to rub the skin right away, leaving the damaged muscle underneath exposed. Skin had also been rubbed down to the flesh on the rabbit’s face. One can only imagine the incredible determination of this rabbit to escape the snare, that it had rubbed the actual flesh from its own bones during its efforts. It isn’t clear how the rabbit eventually died, just hours before we arrived, possibly through exhaustion, shock, or suffocation from the tightening of the snare. What was clear however, was that only a complete ban on such a barbaric and indiscriminate device would be good enough and it really could not come soon enough.

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