In a study published in August in the journal Wildlife Society, Dr. Clayton Lamb of the University of British Columbia and colleagues reported that 4 of 59 grizzly bears captured and collared in southeast British Columbia between 2016 and 2020 had toes missing from one of their front paws. Lamb et al. concluded that the toes had most likely been amputated by body-gripping traps—large, rectangular devices set by fur trappers designed to slam shut on the necks or torsos of small mammals. By testing the traps on the paws of bear carcasses, the scientists determined that they do not immediately fracture bones or sever the bears’ toes. Instead, they clamp down with enough force to prevent blood flow, resulting in necrosis and gradual sloughing off of the digits over weeks or months. To illustrate this excruciating process, the study included several photos of live grizzlies in southern British Columbia seen with body-gripping traps attached to partially severed toes or paws.
The authors noted that nontarget captures are nothing new—many species are unintentionally caught in traps, including mountain lions, birds, dogs, and cats. Within southern British Columbia in recent years, a number of grizzly bears have been caught in steel-jaw leghold traps set for wolves. Amputated toes on grizzlies, however, have not been previously reported. The researchers hypothesized that these novel injuries could be the result of some trappers using increasingly powerful traps perceived by some to be more humane (i.e., quick killing) for target animals. The study findings, however, provide a gruesome example of the prolonged suffering that such traps can still inflict.