With the recent passage of a bill that gained unanimous support in the House of Lords, England has joined a handful of countries and a host of companies and institutions around the world that have banned glue traps.
For mice and rats, the traps’ primary targets, who are so often excluded from society’s moral reckoning or consideration, it means relief from terrible and unnecessary suffering. That suffering is widespread, and it results from the everyday decisions of homeowners, businesses and institutions to purchase and use a crude and callous means of killing.
The glue trap is a sheet of plastic, cardboard or wood coated with adhesive; it traps mice and rats as they cross it. It’s nefarious in design, and the animals’ deaths are neither swift nor painless. They can’t get free of the extremely sticky glues, and they are left immobile to struggle and die, sometimes for days, as users “set them and forget them.” The animals’ agonizing deaths are a result of stress, exhaustion, self-mutilation, starvation and eventual dehydration or suffocation.
These animals deserve better. Both mice and rats are social animals who enjoy the company of others—rats even “laugh” when playing and care for sick members of their group. Contrary to some descriptions, mice and rats are meticulously clean and groom themselves for several hours each day. Mice are very talkative and communicate through ultrasonic sound.
To see an entire country move to end more than a century’s worth of great cruelty to these small creatures—millions upon millions of them—is deeply stirring. Humane Society International first took aim at glue traps in the U.K. in 2015 with the “Unstuck” campaign to spotlight the suffering they cause and discourage their use. We appealed to consumers, retailers, suppliers and institutions of various kinds and laid the groundwork for the legislation.
The ban will take effect following a two-year transition period that includes implementation of a licensing system permitting certain exemptions under specific conditions. License applications permitted under a similar provision in New Zealand’s 2015 prohibition on glue traps have steadily declined, with just three approvals for use in 2021 and none so far this year.
In the United States, the use of glue traps remains common. Yet, ironically, consumers seem to purchase them without comprehending that they are ineffective in the long term. Glue traps may kill some rodents, but they don’t solve the underlying cause of unwelcome rodent visitors. Without efforts to address these issues through prevention strategies, the animals keep coming back, and glue traps mostly just create vacant habitat for newcomers.
Without blocking the entry points rodents use to gain access to a building—such as gaps between pipes or holes in attic walls—or removing attractants such as improperly stored food, the trapping and killing of mice and rats will always be an endless and futile cycle. In this sense, glue traps exemplify the human tendency we often see in our work to humanely solve society’s conflicts with wildlife: People choose a quick, unreliable fix—which usually causes animals great pain—rather than sustainable and permanent solutions.
The severe cruelty of glue traps is compounded by the fact that they are nonselective. They will ensnare any small mammal, bird or reptile who crosses over them, resulting in slow and horrible deaths. A five-year tally of glue trap incidents reported to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals documented cats, birds, hedgehogs, squirrels and even a parrot as victims of the indiscriminate glue.
Our educational outreach and work in human-animal conflict mitigation reveals some consistent themes. There are two main ways to successfully manage conflicts with wild animals. The first is to identify the source of the attractants and then remove or prevent access to those attractants that animals can use as a food resource. The human sources that most often attract animals are garbage, compost, bird seed spillage and various kinds of human food and castoffs.
The second way to manage conflicts is to remove or reduce access to suitable denning and nesting areas where wild animals are unwanted—in both our yards and structures. That requires wildlife and rodent proofing.
Regardless of the control method used, rodents will return if the food supply and access to a nesting site is not controlled or eliminated.
England’s prohibition (soon to be followed by that of Scotland, whose government has also promised a ban) is the result of sustained public awareness campaigns and appeals to corporations, institutions and public facilities such as airports by HSI/UK and others. Our colleagues there have set a strong example for the rest of us.
The cruelty at issue comes up every day when people reach for the cheap and hyped-up glue trap at the hardware or big-box store. Packaging at the point-of-sale touts glue traps as “nontoxic,” “ready-to-use,” “featuring immediate grip and stretchable hold,” and “made in the USA,” and suggests that once you see animals stuck, “simply dispose of the entire glue board.” But one description you won’t read on any label is “blatantly cruel.” This reminds us that the point of intervention lies somewhere else. The choice of cruel killing, when alternatives are available, is a failure of the heart, and if we are to rid the world of glue traps, or any other cruelty, it is to every human heart that we must make our appeal.