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Reveal: The Animal Cruelty Behind America’s Trapping Boom


Tom Knudson/Reveal

Widespread yet elusive, America’s bobcats are prized by trappers for their high-value pelts, which are exported to China, Russia and Europe for fur coats.

Friday night, this station will premiere the investigative reporting series, "Reveal."

The weekly show, produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting, takes a deep look at stories that are not in the headlines, but that have great impact on the country and the lives of the American people.

KNPR's State of Nevada previewed one of the stories you’ll hear when we premiere "Reveal" on January 22 at 8 p.m.

Tom Knudson is an investigative environmental reporter who is the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes. This piece he did for Friday night’s episode details the grisly side of trapping bobcats – much of which takes place in Nevada.

According to Knudson, the pelts are mostly sold to buyers in China, Russia and Europe. They can go for as much as $1,000 a pelt while the coats sell for as much as $150,000. 

He told KNPR's State of Nevada that an estimated 7 million wild animals are killed each year in the United States for the fur coat business that includes coyotes, weasels, raccoons, badgers and bobcats.

“Totally legal and regulated by the states and in most cases these animals are not in any biological danger," he said, "So, from a conservation perspective we’re not putting their populations at risk.” 

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But the traps are not selective. They don't just trap the animals that can be skinned and sold to make coats. 

“So animals the trappers don’t want to catch end up in those traps,” Knudson said, like mountain lions, domesticated dogs and even eagles.

However, no one really knows how many "non-target captures" as they're known there are because reporting is done state by state and is voluntary.

“It is really a mystery,” he said.

When an animal is trapped, it can sit for hours or even days trapped. 

“In Nevada, animals are allowed to languish in traps for up to four days” Knudson said, “A lot of unfortunate things can happen when an animals is caught in a trap for days on end.”

For the past 15 years, California had a rule against the kind of traps allowed in Nevada. Trappers were only allowed to use cage traps that trapped an animal in a metal cage. However, that state has now outlawed bobcat trapping all together because trappers were setting traps along the edge of protected lands. 

That decision brings up an odd quirk in the regulation of trapping. Nevada and California share a mountain range but offer vastly different approaches to trapping in the federal land in that mountain range.

“Even though a lot of trapping does happen on federal land, fish and game regulations are largely set by the state," Knudson explained, "There are some exceptions of course with endangered and threatened species but for species that are fairly widespread and abundant the rules and regs are set by the states.”

Editor's Note: A word of warning before you click on the link above to take you to the piece: the images and stories are pretty grisly.


Tom Knudson, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and Senior Reporter, Reveal

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