Wildlife Myths

We endeavor to provide the reader with information on common myths concerning wildlife and offer suggestions on how to deal with them (for beavers, see our beaver solutions document). Where needed, documentation shall be provided to support any factual statements made. This is not intended to be exhaustive, just representative. It is almost certainly the case, as well, that people might find contradictory information. The point, however, is that negative dogma about wildlife is generally not substantiated and, where there is conflicting information, it is prudent – as well as humane-minded – to give the benefit of the doubt to the wildlife.

This is a 'work in progress' and shall be added to as time permits. Please revisit this page occasionally to see what updates have been made.


MYTH: Overpopulation

There is no such thing as overpopulation in nature. Populations wax and wane depending on environmental conditions including availability of food and habitat. When animals such as rodents increase in numbers, so do the predators who feed on them. In addition, when the number of individuals of a particular species reaches a critical point (we do not necessarily know what that point is), the populations often 'crash' even without predation. Disease and loss of food are important factors. We simply do not know enough about nature to justify any claims that we can 'manage' wildlife better than nature and without causing serious unintended consequences. Often, our 'management' schemes are based more on self-interest than on scientifically defensible actions. Consider the following statements by wildlife biologists (Decker et al 1991):

"Wildlife science per se can rarely demonstrate that any decision leading to a management objective, such as decreasing a deer population, or to a management action, such as hunting animals, is a biological or ecological necessity. … Similarly, the decision to harvest a portion of a wildlife population is a reflection of a value position, a conclusion based partly on scientific evidence and efficacy of known alternatives and partly on particular beliefs about the appropriateness of certain human uses of wild animals (Kennedy 1985)."

"If a professional wildlife manager suggests that a decision is based solely on scientifically-derived biological considerations, the manager either misunderstands the nature of science (by confusing scientific judgements with ethical judgements) (Underwood and Porter 1991) or is deliberately trying to disguise or complement a value judgement under the veil of the legitimacy of science."

MYTH: Beavers cause an increase in mosquitoes

Some people justify the extirpation of beavers, whether through relocation or lethal means, because they believe that the pools created by beavers become breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The available evidence, however, shows that these pools are not necessarily conducive to mosquito reproduction (Butts 1986, 1992) and that beavers, once again, create an ecosystem that is favorable to human beings. We must learn to live with wildlife in general and beavers in particular, even if only through enlightened self-interest.

MYTH: Leghold traps are 'humane'

Those advocating the use of various types of leghold (limb restraint) traps claim that these devices are 'humane' and cause little injury. These claims are not borne out by common sense and various scientific studies. Even if no injuries occurred, simply restraining a wild animal, particularly by a limb, is extremely stressful and can lead to death from distress (culminating in shock and metabolic collapse). Injuries, however, are the rule and include skin abrasion and lacerations, deep tissue lacerations, dislocation of joints, fracture of bones, breakage of teeth and self-mutilation. As any rational person knows, all these things are painful. Even if the traps are set 'properly', serious injury can occur (Van Ballenberghe 1984).

Trappers state that the trapped limb becomes numb. Whereas the part of the limb distal (away from the body) to the point of contact with the trap jaws could become numb (after an indeterminable period), the tissue caught in the jaws, any dislocated joint or broken teeth would not be numb. There still would be extreme pain with every movement of the animal.

Another defense trappers use to deny the suffering of the trapped animals is their observation that some animals are 'asleep' in the traps. There are at least two explanations for this phenomenon, assuming it is true. One explanation is that the animal may succumb to sleep after a period of futile attempts to escape. This is not, however, evidence that the traps do not cause pain. People injured in accidents manage to sleep despite being in pain. The other possibility is that the trapped animal succumbs to a well known phenomenon: learned helplessness. In this situation, the animal being subjected to pain from which there is no escape 'learns' that struggling will not help and eventually gives up.

Many trappers contend that leghold traps allow them the opportunity to release unwanted animals (if they still are alive when found). This is misleading, however, because many of those animals are too debilitated from the damage caused by the trap to compete for survival, and die later as a result of their injuries (Englund 1982; Kuehn et al 1986; Van Ballenberghe 1984). For example, essentially all raptors (birds of prey) who are victims of these traps sustain severely debilitating injury, particularly to their legs, which renders them unable to survive in a free-living state (Durham, 1981). This is true even with so-called padded traps or other so-called 'humane' traps. Whereas trappers have tried to convince society that the 'padding' or other modification prevents damage, therefore causing less pain, this is not true. Several studies have been done comparing the effects of 'padded' versus unpadded traps or other modified traps on various animals, and have shown that both could and did cause the same degree of damage, including laceration of skin, joint luxations and fracture of bones (Anon; Anon 1984; Durham 1981; Gruver 1996; Hubert 1999; Kamler et al 2000; Olsen et al 1986; Olsen et al 1988; Onderka et al 1990; Proulx et al 1993).

MYTH: Killing bears reduces attacks on people

Most bears are fearful of or at least avoid contact with people. Testament to this is the rarity of fatal attacks by American black bears (Ursus americanus) on people, for example; perhaps as few as 63 in a 109 year period (Herrero et al 2011). Conflicts between bears and people result primarily from human 'misbehavior'. Feeding bears leads to reduction in innate fear of people, resulting in bears 'invading' camping and other sites where food is present. Attempting to get close to bears, particularly if they are feeding, is another reason why people are attacked.

It is unquestionable, however, that killing bears does not reduce or mitigate conflicts with people (Tavss 2005). The best way to reduce or prevent conflicts with bears is to educate people about how and when to avoid them, stop feeding them, secure garbage and generally take measures to prevent attracting bears into human residential areas (Atkinson 2007).

MYTH: Wolves are responsible for 'livestock' deaths and decrease in population of animals hunted by people

It is often claimed that wolves are responsible for killing large numbers of 'livestock' such as cattle or sheep. Further, it is claimed that wolves 'compete' with human hunters for animals such as antelope, elk or moose and cause a reduction in the populations of these animals. The available information, however, shows no such relationship between wolves and the animals in question.

With 'livestock', it has been shown that killing wolves results in more wolf-related killing of 'livestock' in the years that follow (Wielgus et al 2015). With moose, there is a complex relationship between wolves and moose populations, with availability of food for moose, not the presence of wolves, an important factor in determining population stability (Peterson et al 1984). In the case of antelope and deer, a vibrant wolf population increases their numbers because it reduces the population of coyotes whose predation of recently born offspring is responsible for reducing herd sizes (Berger et al 2008; Berger et al 2008). As with all situations with wildlife, our interference, in this case the killing off of large predators such as wolves, results in unintended and negative results with respect to other animals and biodiversity (Berger et al 2008). One such example involves Scotland, where people killed off the wolves resulting in red deer 'overpopulation'. Because this unnatural increase in deer numbers began causing 'problems', the Scots proposed to reintroduce the wolves as a solution (Anon 2009).

Incidentally, hunting wolves results in devastation to their numbers, far greater than through a simple mathematical reduction by the number killed (Creel et al 2010).

MYTH: Crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters and shrimp do not feel pain

People justify the boiling alive for food of animals such as crabs and lobsters because they erroneously believe or claim that these animals do not feel pain. Even without scientific research, such a claim is patently absurd given the critical importance of pain in survival for virtually all animals. Pain is a universal biological phenomenon in the animal world. It serves to protect an individual from internal or external adverse conditions. All animals studied to date have been demonstrated to have at least some means of responding to stimuli which would cause pain. Even invertebrates such as insects (Eisemann et al 1984) and earthworms (Alumets et al 1979) have been shown to possess pain modulators which were commonly thought to exist only in vertebrates such as mammals. It is, therefore, completely rational and biologically sound to assume that crustaceans would be able to feel pain. Moreover, their behavior is consistent with this principle.

It would be incredible, to say the least, if animals with nervous systems – albeit it comparatively 'primitive' in crustaceans – would not have developed mechanisms based on pain to cope with various threats to their lives. Whereas one species, such as a human being or other mammal, may utilize a particular neurological configuration to process noxious (painful) stimuli or other information, another species may utilize a different system with similar results (Chittka & Niven 2009). The fact that certain features of the mammalian nervous system are lacking in invertebrates such as crabs or lobsters does not a priori prove that pain is not a part of their world or that it is somehow less noxious or important to them. This type of logic would lead one to the absurd conclusion that creatures such as crabs and honey bees cannot see because they do not have a central visual center as seen in mammals.

There is a growing body of scientific studies that provide conclusive evidence that animals such as crabs and lobsters feel pain and may suffer (Appel & Elwood 2009; Barr et al 2008; Elwood & Adams 2015; Elwood & Appel 2009; Elwood et al 2009; Magee & Elwood 2013). Crayfish display behavior that is analogous to anxiety (Fossat et al 2014). Just how much crustaceans may suffer and whether it is in a manner similar to mammals such as cats, dogs or human beings, for example, is open to question. But, it would be inappropriate and biologically and morally inconsistent to do something to them that one would not consider doing to those mammals. A compassionate and logically thinking person would ask the question, Why do something that could cause harm when not doing it would definitely not cause harm?

MYTH: Fish do not feel pain or suffer

People who defend the practice of fishing or leaving fish out of water to suffocate to death claim that fish do not feel pain or suffer. See the section on crustaceans for a general statement on the absurdity of such a claim.

Chandroo and colleagues (Chandroo et al 2004) concluded that the scientific literature available at the time not only indicated that fish could feel pain, but also that they could suffer. More scientific studies since then have added further evidence (Dunlop el al 2006; Nordgreen et al 2009). Professor Marc Bekoff, an internationally renowned animal behavior scientist, has also concluded that fish feel pain and suffer very much like other vertebrates (Bekoff 2014).

MYTH: Killing deer is necessary to reduce conflicts with people

The primary 'conflicts' between deer and people involve the eating of garden plants or commercial crops, collisions with automobiles, the spread of Lyme disease (borreliosis) and so-called overbrowsing of natural habitat. These issues are complex and no single solution can address them adequately. Although they can be mitigated by reducing deer populations in specific circumstances, there is no proof that purposeful killing through hunting or paid killers, for example, is essential. As already pointed out, the concept of overpopulation – and its corollary, 'overbrowsing' – is specious at best. Although there is no question that human beings are overpopulating the world, we do not use lethal means to control the situation. Our compassion and adherence to our moral principles would not permit this. We have to ask ourselves, what is so different about deer that we abandon our humanity and resort to killing rather than seeking solutions that allow for coexistence or at least tolerance. Further, we compound the situation by recreational feeding of deer, habituating them to human beings and their residences and we eliminate natural means of population control by killing off predators (Anon 2009; Berger et al 2008) or providing supplemental feed during winter.

In some cases where deer are located in a finite area, contraception may be the best way to keep deer numbers consistent with the carrying capacity of the habitat. Because a reduction in numbers will take time, people need to be patient. Some of the methods that can be considered include immunocontraception (Anon 2015; Rutberg et al 2013) and spaying (Basch 2013; Hendrix 2014).

When deer threaten people's gardens, appropriate fencing and repellents (Andelt et al 1994) can be used. It is important to know the limitations of some repellents (Bíl et al 2018; Kimball et al 2009). People can choose to use plants that are not attractive to deer rather than insisting on those that will continue to create conflicts.

Collisions with cars can be reduced by posting speed limits that take into account area-specific risks to wildlife, adherence to and enforcement of these limits, and driver education about why collisions occur (O'Keefe & Rea 2012). Be aware, however, that certain repellent methods such as warning reflectors (D'Angelo et al 2006), touted by manufacturers, have been shown to be ineffective. Anecdotal data suggest that sometimes hunting may increase collisions because deer leave their normal territories to seek safety elsewhere, crossing roads in the process (Scully 2008).

Lyme disease or borreliosis, although important, is not spread by deer. Deer, as well as other animals, are hosts to the species of tick that sometimes contains the organism that causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi). People can be infested by the tick in the same way deer are, by walking through areas where the ticks reside. Wearing protective clothing and using an appropriate repellent can reduce the chance of infestation. The risk of infection from a potentially infectious tick can be further reduced or eliminated entirely by always checking oneself for the presence of ticks and promptly removing them.

For more information, we suggest you visit CayugaDeer.org - Ithacans for Safe, Ethical, and Rational Approaches to Reducing Deer-Human Conflict. This group has done considerable research on the issue and provides information that can be applied in most situations.


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  3. ...a 6.2% concentration of Hot Sauce (100 times the concentration labeled for deer) and BGR [Big Game Repellent] reduced (P < 0.05) consumption relative to the control and other repellents. Although the 6.2% concentration of Hot Sauce and BGR were the most effective browsing deterrents, their effectiveness may be relatively short lived if deer are continually exposed to them.
  4. Anonymous. undated. "Comparison of trap-related injuries caused by leghold traps with rubber-shod jaws and standard steel-jawed leghold traps." Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, Department of Parasitology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens.
  5. Anonymous. 1984. "I - An evaluation of trapping systems." New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife.
  6. Anonymous. 2009. "Wolf reintroduction proposed in Scottish Highland test case." ScienceDaily. (accessed 2016-03-14)
  7. Researchers are proposing in a new report that a major experiment be conducted to reintroduce wolves to a test site in the Scottish Highlands, to help control the populations and behavior of red deer that in the past 250 years have changed the whole nature of large ecosystems.

    …scientists point not just to the effect of large predators in helping to control the populations of grazing animals, but also their behavior. The threat of predation and attack can fundamentally change the movement and activities of grazing animals 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in ways that such approaches as human hunting fail to do.

    The native red deer in Scotland – essentially the same animal as elk in the United States – have not faced predation or fear such as that for 250 years. Deer densities in that country are now thought to be so high they are close to the food-limiting carrying capacity of the land, and have serious consequences on native Scots pine and birch regeneration.
  8. Anonymous. 2018. "GonaCon™ new GnRH single shot." United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. (accessed 2018-02-20)
  9. The single-shot, multi-year GonaCon™ vaccine will be a useful technique for the management of certain enclosed or urban/suburban wildlife populations, such as deer.
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  11. These findings are consistent with the idea of a pain experience rather than a nociceptive reflex.
  12. Atkinson, Cathryn. 2007. "Builder goes the bear-friendly route." The Globe and Mail. (accessed 2016-03-14)
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  14. These results indicate an awareness of the location of the noxious stimuli, and the prolonged complex responses indicate a central involvement in their organization. The inhibition by a local anaesthetic is similar to observations on vertebrates and is consistent with the idea that these crustaceans can experience pain.
  15. Basch, Michelle. 2013. "Deer dilemma postscript: Md. spay program shows alternative." WTOP. (accessed 2018-02-20)
  16. A research permit from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources allows the approach. In 2011, the program's first year, 32 does were sterilized. 'This alone, by doing the 32 does, will prevent the birthing of probably 300 fawns during the does' eight-year reproductive life, says Feinberg [Enid Feinberg, volunteer president of the nonprofit group Wildlife Rescue, Inc.]...'we found that because the deer are no longer pregnant, they're no longer consuming the amount of food that they were. So the browsing and the food consumption has dropped tremendously without having to do any harm to the deer,' she adds.
  17. Bekoff, Marc. 2014. "Fish are sentient and emotional beings and clearly feel pain." Psychology Today. (accessed 2016-03-16)
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  19. In contrast with previous studies, the changes in herbivore populations that we observed resulted not from direct predation by a top carnivore, but rather as a result of indirect effects mediated by changes in mesocarnivore abundance. The strong, negative correlations between coyote and wolf densities, and coyote densities and fawn survival, support the hypothesis that mesopredator release of coyotes, resulting from the extirpation of wolves throughout much of North America, contributes to high rates of coyote predation on pronghorn fawns observed in some areas. Thus, from both management and conservation perspectives wolf restoration holds promise for reducing coyote predation rates on neonatal ungulates such as pronghorn, mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus).
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  21. Thus, wolf restoration holds promise for enhancing ungulates populations by reducing coyote predation rates on neonates of species such as pronghorn, mule deer, and white-tailed deer.

    To the extent that large carnivores exert top-down forces on systems, our results suggest that their loss or removal may result in unanticipated effects on ecological communities that may lead to further decreases in biodiversity.
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  23. We applied a Bayesian approach as only a limited numbers of WVC were available. A WVC decrease between 26 – 43% can be expected on the treated road sections. These numbers are, however, up to three-times lower than those claimed by producers of odor preparations.

    Although the study was done in the Czech Republic on roe deer and wild boar, the data are likely to be translatable to other situations.
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  25. The nature of the mosquito fauna in such impoundments can be of considerable interest to the associated human populations. The information presented here indicates that the presence of increased areas of impounded permanent water need not necessarily mean that larger pest mosquito populations will appear.
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  27. Drastic reduction of populations of univoltine temporary pool mosquitoes followed impoundment of breeding areas by beavers. Mosquito populations persist at very low levels over a 10-year period with no evidence of mosquito development in the impoundment.
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  29. Anatomical, pharmacological and behavioural data suggest that affective states of pain, fear and stress are likely to be experienced by fish in similar ways as in tetrapods. This implies that fish have the capacity to suffer…
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  31. Many insects, however, demonstrate that highly differentiated motor repertoires, extensive social structures and cognition are possible with very small brains, emphasising that we need to understand the neural circuits, not just the size of brain regions, which underlie these feats.
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  33. For wolves, it is widely argued that human offtake has little effect on total mortality rates, so that a harvest of 28-50% per year can be sustained. Using previously published data from 21 North American wolf populations, we related total annual mortality and population growth to annual human offtake. Contrary to current conventional wisdom, there was a strong association between human offtake and total mortality rates across North American wolf populations. Human offtake was associated with a strongly additive or super-additive increase in total mortality. Population growth declined as human offtake increased, even at low rates of offtake. Finally, wolf populations declined with harvests substantially lower than the thresholds identified in current state and federal policies. (emphasis added)
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  35. We concluded that wildlife warning reflectors were ineffective in changing deer behavior such that deer–vehicle collisions might be prevented.
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  38. These results suggest that shock avoidance in fish is not purely a reflex action. Fish were prepared to change the supposedly innate avoidance reaction according to a change in circumstances, an important concept in the ongoing debate on pain perception in fish.
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  42. The results are consistent with the idea of pain in these animals.
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  44. We conclude that there is considerable similarity of function, although different systems are used, and thus there might be a similar experience in terms of suffering.
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  47. There were numerous broken teeth.

    Thirty percent of the foxes caught in unmodified leg-hold traps had broken bones, in most cases the phalanges or metacarpals… A higher percentage of the foxes taken in modified [surfaces covered with plastic] leghold traps had broken bones…
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  49. We tend to assume that complex emotions, such as anxiety, only occur in mammals or other cognitively complex vertebrates. ...these invertebrates display a primitive form of anxiety that shares a mechanism with the more complex emotions displayed by vertebrates.
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  53. In 38% (15 of 40) of incidents, peoples' food or garbage probably influenced the bear being in the attack location. … With training, people can learn to recognize the behaviors of a bear considering them as prey and can act to deter predation.
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  57. These data support previous studies indicating that habituation to odor limits the effectiveness of repellents that are not applied directly to food, while topically-applied irritants and animal-based products produce significant avoidance.
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  59. Broken, chipped, or dislodged teeth occurred in 89 (44%) adults and in 15 (14%) juveniles… Individuals also suffered lacerations, joint dislocations and fractures of bones.
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  61. These data, and those of other recent experiments, are consistent with key criteria for pain experience and are broadly similar to those from vertebrate studies.
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  64. We stress the importance of using these data in the development of driver awareness campaigns and discuss their importance in understanding the ecologies of animals being struck and the development of regional- and species-specific mitigation plans.
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  66. All models of padded foothold traps reduced but did not eliminate trap-related foot injuries in coyotes and kit foxes.
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  69. The same types of serious and painful injuries, such as lacerations, joint luxations or subluxations and broken teeth, occurred with the padded trap (and foot snares, especially Novak), although with less frequency.
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  71. After a decade of dramatic population fluctuations, protected populations of wolves and moose in Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior returned in 1983 to the levels observed in the 1950's. Inherent lags in this predator-prey system and the strong recovery of the moose population following a wolf population crash suggest that these populations may continue to cycle with a period length of about 38 (95 percent confidence interval, ±13) years. Such a long-term cycle is consistent with the proposal that period length of herbivore population cycles will characteristically scale according to the fourth root of body mass, a basic allometric relation linking physiological cycles to population processes.
  72. Proulx, Gilbert; Onderka, Detlef K.; Kolenosky, Alfred J.; Cole, Pamela J.; Drescher, Randy K. and Badry, M.J. 1993. "Injuries and behavior of raccoons (Procyon lotor) captured in the Soft Catch™ and the Egg™ traps in simulated natural environments." Journal of Wildlife Diseases 29(3):447-452. (accessed 2016-03-14)
  73. Rutberg, Allen T.; Naugle, Ricky E. and Verret, Frank. 2013. "Single-treatment porcine zona pellucida immunocontraception associated with reduction of a population of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)." Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 44(4s):S75-S83. (accessed 2018-02-20)
  74. Most vaccine preparations tested reduced fawning rates by 75% to 95% for at least 1 yr. From 2005 to 2011, deer density on Fripp Island declined by 50%, from 72 deer/km2 to 36 deer/km2, an average annual reduction of 11%.
  75. Scully, Matthew. 2008. "Don't blame the deer." The New York Times. (accessed 2018-03-05)
  76. ...the deer spring into busy unfenced roads in flight from hunters. Indeed, a study in Pennsylvania found that car insurance claims for deer-related accidents increase fivefold during hunting season.
  77. Tavss, Edward A. 2005. "Correlation of reduction in nuisance black bear complaints with implementation of (a) a hunt vs. (b) a non-violent program: Final Report – Version 4". Final Report: 21 pages. (accessed 2016-03-14)
  78. The results demonstrate that at every site in which the hunting approach was evaluated no effect in reducing the human complaints/conflicts was observed while at every site in which the non-violent program was evaluated, the non-violent approach was demonstrated to be markedly effective in reducing human complaints/conflicts, [sic]. It is particularly important to note that in the state of New Jersey the number of complaints has been statistically significantly declining over the last seven years, consistent with using the non-violent approach.
  79. Van Ballenberghe, Victor. 1984. "Injuries to wolves sustained during live-capture." The Journal of Wildlife Management 48(4):1425-1429. (accessed 2016-03-13)
  80. Very severe, potentially life threatening injuries (class IV) occurred in 11% of all captures involving traps.

    Only 14 captures involved traps with offset jaws and teeth. Three of these resulted in class IV injuries of the foot demonstrating that such injuries are possible even if the foot is held from slipping between the trap jaws.

    Tooth, lip, and gum injuries occurred in 50 (46%) of 109 captures of wolves in steel traps. Tooth injuries ranged from breakage of one or two small teeth to breakage of all four canine teeth plus several other incisors and premolars. Lip and gum injuries included abrasions and lacerations often accompanied by severe edema.

    Steel traps, as used in this study, produced a high rate of severe injuries even when checked daily.
  81. Wielgus, Robert B. and Peebles, Kaylie A. 2014. "Effects of wolf mortality on livestock depredations." PLoS One 9(12):e113505. (accessed 2016-03-14)
  82. Predator control and sport hunting are often used to reduce predator populations and livestock depredations, – but the efficacy of lethal control has rarely been tested. We assessed the effects of wolf mortality on reducing livestock depredations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming from 1987-2012 using a 25 year time series. … We found that the number of livestock depredated was positively associated with the number of livestock and the number of breeding pairs. However, we also found that the number of livestock depredated the following year was positively, not negatively, associated with the number of wolves killed the previous year. The odds of livestock depredations increased 4% for sheep and 5-6% for cattle with increased wolf control - up until wolf mortality exceeded the mean intrinsic growth rate of wolves at 25%. Possible reasons for the increased livestock depredations at [-<]25% mortality may be compensatory increased breeding pairs and numbers of wolves following increased mortality. After mortality exceeded 25%, the total number of breeding pairs, wolves, and livestock depredations declined. However, mortality rates exceeding 25% are unsustainable over the long term.