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Outcry Over Maiming of Coyote Results in Trap Switch

Times Staff Writer

Reacting to complaints that a coyote caught in Topanga Canyon chewed off its leg to escape a steel-jawed trap, Los Angeles County officials Thursday ordered county trappers to quit using leg traps.

County workers instead will attempt to capture coyotes with more humane box traps, Agriculture Department officials said.

The change in procedure was ordered by county Agricultural Commissioner E. Leon Spaugy as the Board of Supervisors prepared to vote Tuesday on its own jaw-trap ban.

Officials admitted they were feeling the bite of animal rights activists, who were angered late last week by the mutilation of the coyote in Topanga Canyon.

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In that incident, a female coyote trapped behind a Hodgson Circle Drive home gnawed off her left rear leg to escape from the trap--only to hobble into another trap that snared her right front leg.

Animal activists learned of the coyote’s maiming when an Agriculture Department trapper shot the animal and took its remains to the county’s Agoura Animal Shelter to be checked for signs of plague and rabies.

‘Really Sick’

“It was disgusting, really sick,” said Heather Davis, a shelter employee who observed the coyote.

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Animal lovers responded by demanding that the county ban leg traps. Aides to Supervisor Mike Antonovich were drafting such a resolution when Spaugy voluntarily agreed to quit using them.

“We’re pleased. That was our goal,” said Peter Whittingham, an assistant to Antonovich. “Coyotes are killed after they’re caught, but the purpose of the traps is not to have animals tortured.”

Richard Wightman, who heads the Agriculture Department’s coyote trapping program, said he will evaluate the effectiveness of box traps during the next 6 months and report to supervisors. He said he questions whether the 4-foot-long wire cage traps--which have doors that close when a coyote walks inside--will work as well as leg traps.

“I don’t want to spend $15,000 on them and find they don’t work or are getting ripped off,” Wightman said. “I’ll prepare a report for the board on an unbiased basis. But if the fact is they don’t work, that’s what I’ll say.”

Box traps cost about $125 each. The county has one and will immediately buy four more, Wightman said. He said the county has about 150 leg traps, which cost about $5 each.

He said there had been no reports of coyote mutilations until the Topanga Canyon incident.

Some Critics Pleased

Thursday’s jaw-trap ban was hailed by some animal lovers. “Hopefully, this is the beginning of a ban on jaw traps for the whole state,” said Capt. Barbara Fabricant, a state humane officer from Canoga Park who first called for action by supervisors.

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However, other animal activists said they will press for elimination of all coyote trapping by the county. They said they were angry because the Topanga Canyon trapping--which resulted in four coyotes being caught and killed--was triggered by a complaint that a coyote had killed a kitten.

“We’re horrified that you can call up the county and have coyotes killed just because you lost a cat,” said Maggie Brammhall, a Topanga Canyon resident. “We have coyotes up here. But we don’t have a coyote problem.”

Animal control experts, meanwhile, said county agriculture workers will have to be patient with the walk-in traps.

“It takes a few weeks for a coyote to get used to a walk-in trap,” said Tom Walsh, a San Fernando Valley district supervisor for the Los Angeles City Department of Animal Regulation. “You have to set it up and leave it baited. They look at it suspiciously at first.”

Walsh said city animal-control officers use cage traps for about 20% of the coyotes they catch. He said they use leg traps when they are in a hurry to catch troublesome coyotes.


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