Stephen Vantassel is visiting lecturer in Theology at the Midlands Bible College and Adjunct Professor of Theology, Trinity Theological Seminary (Indiana), USA, where he is currently completing his Ph.D. dissertation.
Used by permissionn of the author.
Animal protectionist groups lobby for the banning of wildlife trapping because of its perceived cruelty and harm to the environment. This paper evaluates those claims and suggests that Christians carefully consider all the data before adopting an anti-trapping stance.
Historically, the Christianized West believed that humanity held a privileged position in the world. The world was, either by design or by happenstance, for humans to use for their own needs and interests. However, during the 1960’s, concern over the degradation of the environment raised questions about the truthfulness behind the traditional view. Rachel Carson’s landmark book, Silent Spring, said that our environmental predicament flowed from our (foolhardy) desire to control nature. In her assessment, “The “control of nature” is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man.” Lynn White Jr. laid the majority of the blame for our damaged environment on the shoulders of Western Christianity’s doctrine of human dominion. Armed with this ammunition, “Deep Ecologists”, argued that the solution to our environmental problems begins by reorienting humanity’s relationship with the environment, i.e. humans must jettison their anthropocentric stance toward nature and acknowledge that their interests are no more important or valuable than those of non-human creation. Humans, therefore, ought to reject their desire for control over any part of the natural world.
Christians have not been immune to these ideological currents. Despite the lack of attention given to environmental issues among Evangelical theologians, interest is growing. One group of animal protectionists, known as Christian Animal Rights activists (CAR), assert that Scripture and science require us to protect animals from harm stemming from human behavior. They contend that God’s original creation was characterized by non-violent harmony between humans and animals. God never wanted humans to eat animal flesh or kill animals through hunting or trapping. Humanity’s carnivorous behavior only began as a result of the Fall. Furthermore, since Christ reconciled “all things” (Col 1:18f), which would presumably include non-human creation, Christians must work for a peaceable kingdom that extends Christ’s compassion to all of Creation. Therefore, Christians must stop killing and eating animals, and work for the adoption of rights for animals. In addition, these Christians suggest that an animal protectionist stance is more environmentally sound. It is alleged that if humans would stop killing animals the earth would become a better place to live.
The CAR activists’ rejection of the Church’s traditional understanding of human dominion has far reaching implications. Is it morally and environmentally wrong for Christians to trap wildlife? Trapping differs from hunting in that a device allows the trapper to take an animal without having to be present. The subject of trapping may appear to be far removed from the important issues confronting Christian environmental theory. However, this writer believes that as abortion is a bell-weather issue regarding one’s views on the sanctity of life, so trapping helps us refine our positions regarding environmental ethics and policy. Trapping, particularly since the development of the foothold trap, has been the subject of intense controversy. Trapping places questions of the extent of human dominion in stark relief. It is arguably the most difficult of all the consumptive wildlife activities (such as hunting and fishing) to defend due to the perception that trapping is cruel. Finally, trapping has been the subject of political activism by animal protectionist groups seeking to restrict and/or ban trapping altogether. Thus, by discussing trapping, we avoid creating a straw-man of the CAR position, while dealing with a concrete ethical issue of contemporary significance facing Christians interested in environmental ethics.
Before reviewing the evidence, we must distinguish different types of trapping. Trapping is not a monolithic activity as trapping occurs for different reasons. “Consumptive trapping” involves the capturing of animals deemed desirable for their fur, meat, or products. This type of trapping normally results in the death of the animal, but live-captures for zoos or pet markets do occur. Fur-trapping is a specific kind of consumptive trapping in that the primary goal is to capture animals considered valuable for their pelt rather than for their meat or to resolve a predation issue. “Control trapping” designates the capture and removal of animals considered dangerous or causing disturbance to human or other interests, such as troublesome house mice (Mus musculus) or invasive species. As with consumptive trapping, control trapping frequently results in the death of the offending animal. “Research trapping” refers to the capture of animals for study or population surveys. Since CAR activists focus their opposition on consumptive trapping and on control trapping, this paper will do likewise.
Trapping is a complex issue covering a variety of tools, techniques, and species. The sheer breadth of data can overwhelm the non-professional. So to help make the subject manageable, the debate over consumptive trapping will be discussed in more general terms. However, since control trapping is decidedly more concrete and specific, the author has chosen to evaluate CAR’s opposition to coyote (Canis latrans) trapping for simplicity.
As noted above, CAR activists believe that trapping or any killing of animals, except to save human life, is immoral. They ground this belief in their reading of Scripture and their understanding of the environmental evidence. This author believes that the CAR activists are mistaken on both counts. Since a critique of their Biblical argument has already been written, it will be only summarized here.
First, the CAR position mischaracterizes Scripture’s description of humanity’s role in creation. CAR activists love to talk about how humans must tend and keep the garden but downplay our right and need to partake of the garden. In other words, God permits people to enjoy the fruits of their labor. CAR activists correctly state that humanity’s dominion should be characterized by stewardship. But they forget that responsible stewardship may involve culling and forceful imposition as denoted by words "rule" radah  and "subdue" kabosh. God’s allowance of coercive dominion makes Adam and Eve’s failure to evict or even kill the Serpent even more egregious. Furthermore, even conceding the view that pre-fallen humans were exclusively vegetarian, the question regarding their need to protect the garden from animals seeking to partake of the garden’s produce remains. Even if the Fall never occurred, competition between human and animal interests would have had to take place eventually given the finitude of the earth’s available resources. Second, the CAR view improperly diminishes the differences between humans and other sentient creatures. It is true that humans have many similarities with animals, such as being souls (nephesh) and having bodies. However, Genesis 1-2 clearly shows that humanity stands at the apex of creation. Humanity alone is "in the image of God, (see also Gen 9:6; 1 Cor 11:7; Jms 3:9); a phrase that emphasizes the importance of humans. Humanity’s significance is underscored by God’s having an interactive and communicative relationship with individual humanity; a reality that does not exist with animals. In light of humanity’s privileged position, it is perfectly legitimate to understand that humans have authority over creation and animals. Third, CAR undercuts the doctrine of the atonement by denying that God commanded animal sacrifices or that Christ was the lamb of God that would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Finally, if killing or harming animals is wrong or not God’s perfect will, then Christ’s perfection is in doubt (Heb 9:14) as he was directly and indirectly involved in the infliction of death and suffering upon animals.
Unfortunately, proving that CAR activists are mistaken on their understanding of human-animal relations does not necessarily translate into support for trapping. CAR activists assert that trapping must be condemned by Christians because of its cruelty and threat to ecosystems. In other words, CAR activists believe that Christians should refrain from trapping or severely limit their trapping activities on the basis that trapping violates God’s requirement that humans protect His creation. Humans, even as subordinate lords over creation, cannot use their position and power as unrestricted license (1 Cor 6:12; 10:23).
Since CAR activists employ scientific arguments to support their view that trapping constitutes a violation of our requirement to “care for creation”, the remainder of this paper will evaluate the validity of these arguments.
TRAPPING AS UNDULY CRUEL
CAR activists assert that trapping constitutes an unacceptable level of pain and suffering that when coupled with other negative aspects of trapping becomes an unacceptable form of wildlife management. In other words, the cruelty alleged to be inflicted by trapping, particularly the steel-trap, is so gratuitous that any of its environmental benefits are outweighed by its deficits.
The evidence for this argument can be found in Cull of the Wild: A Contemporary Analysis of Wildlife Trapping in the United States (hereafter COTW) and Facts about Furs (hereafter, FAF). These texts employed several categories to express the comprehensive nature of the suffering inflicted by trapping. First, they condemn the trappers’ equipment as barbaric and excessively cruel. Foothold traps are especially hated because animals caught in these traps suffer shoulder dislocations, cuts, bruises, swelling, broken bones, tooth damage, and “wring off” (also known as a “chew out”) in their struggle to free themselves before the trapper’s return. ‘Wring offs’ occur when the animal’s leg breaks at the joint. As the animal struggles and/or gnaws at the broken limb, ligaments are twisted till they sever, allowing the animal to escape. The resultant wound puts the animal at risk for infection and possible death. While the amount of pain involved and the number of animals affected is disputed, these events have occurred and to some extent still occur, but hard data is lacking.
The second part of the argument from cruelty asserts that traps are not selective, thereby injuring/killing many non-target animals. Just as human rights advocates would be outraged by police rounding up people without any real evidence of guilt, so the animal protectionists argue that traps injure many animals that trappers did not seek. Without verifiable data, the COTW estimated that 5 million non-target animals may be captured in the
In light of these remarkable claims, one may wonder how Christians could support trapping with devices that inflict so much pain on target and non-target animals alike. Trapping so described appears to be the height of environmental mismanagement and abuse of our stewardship role. Although these books make many true statements, they fail to provide the full context for those facts.
In regards to the first part of the argument from suffering, it should be said that trappers do not wish for “wring outs”, as they represent a lost capture. Furthermore, while not denying that traps can cause pain and injury, trappers are not sadists. The question, however, is how much pain may Christians morally inflict in the process of capturing free-range animals? It is critical to be careful here as your answer will impact on your moral evaluation of Christ’s miracle of the fishes (see Lk 5). Furthermore, should we consider the pain of the individual animal caught in the trap in isolation or in light of the benefits achieved through compensatory culling? To assert that a particular capture method is unduly painful, one must have another option against which to compare it. This author would caution readers to diligently inquire about the standard employed by animal protectionists. Many of them consider all injuries sustained during an animal’s capture, no matter how slight, as providing sufficient grounds to designate the method as cruel. For example, most animal protectionists will argue that the mere death of the animal (unless to end suffering not induced by humans) is by definition cruel, as the animal will have lost its expectation of life. Yet, loss of life is not what is generally understand as constituting cruelty in regards to animals. This radical understanding of suffering caused one fur-trapper to remark that animal protectionists would not be happy even if we trapped and killed the animals with “sweet dreams and tender kisses.” The animal protectionist argument only has force if it is wrong to trap an animal at all.
If humans can morally trap and kill animals as long as it is performed properly, then what standard should be used to define what is “proper”? Reynolds explains that the present standard, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis (which is a blood test of hormones believed to signify stress levels) has limitations. If we rely on physical injury tests, as is done with Best Management Practices,  how much value should we place on the significance of animal’s foot swelling, when the animal will be killed upon the trapper’s arrival anyway? Nor would using cage traps necessarily solve the problem as the FAF considers them humane only if the trap is checked twice daily; a requirement that would dramatically reduces trapping cost-efficiency.
Consider other forms of capturing animals. How does one compare the suffering caused by trapping to the suffering inflicted by toxicants that cause death through internal injury and is thereby more difficult to quantify? In the
Turning to part 2 of the argument, readers should be reminded that trappers have a financial interest in capturing the right animal. Here, again the problem of definition comes into play. If a trap is set for a coyote, but catches a red fox, it could be legitimately said that the capture is a non-target. Yet non-target does not necessarily mean unwanted. It may not have been the exact species desired, but that does not necessarily mean that trapper cannot use the species. It is critical that Christians press animal protectionists for greater clarity in their use of terms.
Pets are by far the most emotionally charged non-target animal. Animal protectionists gain a great deal of political capital when pets become trapped, due to the intense media coverage responding to the shock of a pet idolizing public. One survey found that individuals were motivated to work for trap bans because of a pet that was injured or killed in a trap. Yet in all the outrage and finger pointing that occurs when pets are trapped, two questions are rarely asked. “Was the trap legally set?” and “Was the pet on a leash?” These two questions are not asked because owners see their pets as extensions of the family with essentially equal rights and privileges. Owners bristle against any restrictions on their pet’s rights and freedoms. Like naïve and doting parents, pet owners rarely even consider the possibility that their pet may have done something wrong. According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year, more than 4.7 million people sustain dog bites, with 800,000 seeking medical attention. Almost half of those seeking medical attention require treatment in an emergency department and about a dozen die. We have not even mentioned how free-roaming dogs can attack livestock. House cats pose disease risks to humans and are a significant threat to the environment, a fact frequently overlooked. Granted pet owner misbehavior does not make trapping right, but the point being made here is that free-roaming pets also negatively impact the environment. The public policy question becomes, “If trappers bear responsibility for catching free-roaming pets (all of which aren’t even injured), what responsibility do owners have for the negative effects of their pets’ actions?” It is essentially an issue of distributive justice rather than relying on the tyranny of the polls. This writer would suggest that the reason legislators ban traps stems from their awareness that trappers comprise such a small minority that such action will carry no negative political consequences.
More to the point, a critical failure of the entire argument from cruelty lay with its excessive preoccupation with the trap. Animal protectionists talk about the foothold as if it only had only one design. Their use of the term “foothold” is comparable to one saying that all vehicles pose the same risks of injury to their occupants as all the others. However, just as there are different kinds of cars, with differing safety standards, so there are different kinds of footholds with different injury rates. Footholds not only have different jaw spreads, and spring tension, they also have different versions such as off-set, double jaw, toothed-jaw, laminated, padded, and more. All footholds are not the same nor do they injure animals in equal measure.
The second problem with the argument against traps is the unstated assumption that technology improvement or an equipment ban holds the answer. In this regard, the animal protectionist perspective echoes that of the anti-gun lobby which directs its anger at an inanimate object rather than the morally responsible operator. Certainly in political terms, it is easier to regulate devices than behavior, so this may be part of the animal activist strategy. Yet, their rhetoric repeatedly ignores that trapping involves the trapper-trap connection. Traps do not set themselves. The trapper’s skill in placement, choice, modification, and set construction (i.e. baiting) plays an important role in reducing injuries and non-target captures. For example, coyote trappers can reduce the risk of capturing free-roaming house cats, by simply increasing the tension need to spring the trap. Trapping injuries can be addressed by reducing trap check times or using different traps noted below. While one suspects that animal protectionist standards are so high as to present insurmountable difficulties for a humane fur-trade (on their definition), it is worth noting that progress has been made. It is regrettable that every state does not require trapper education, given that many trappers still learn by “trial and error.” However, COTW painted too bleak a picture. Thankfully, a great deal of trapper education opportunities are available to those willing to seek it out, including, field training, periodicals, books, and online bulletin boards. While this author strongly recommends trapper education, the fact is there are limits to what can be taught in a classroom setting. Trapping is like legal work, it takes practice. Even experienced trappers regularly admit that the animals teach them new things all the time.
Animal activists also fail to remind the public that the problems of pain/suffering and injuries to non-targets are not exclusively the domain of footholds. Box and cage traps (mistakenly called live-traps) are cited as causing trapped animals to suffer through physical injury. Additionally, beavers captured in the Bailey Live Trap® during the winter can suffer hypothermia because the trap keeps them in the cold water a fact not mentioned in the COTW. One study on river otters concluded that padded-jaw foothold traps were preferable to the Hancock cage trap because foothold trapped otters were less likely to break their teeth. Readers may be surprised to learn that the much maligned foothold has actually been involved in a wildly successful river otter reintroduction program to much of their native range in the
A more realistic view of trapping is to recognize the trap and the trapper work in combination. To put it numerically, we could describe the relationship as an equation, trap choice minus trapper skill=suffering (8-4=4). Improved trap design would mean that the suffering associated with the trap would be lower to begin with. Couple the trap with an improved skill of the trapper and the suffering number can be low indeed (7-5=2). Just as automobiles have become safer, the fact remains that driver behavior remains the number one cause of accidents and injuries. Fortunately, advances in trap design have been made. Research performed by Shivak, DeLiberto and others demonstrated that newer devices, may reduce injury. The Belisle® Footsnare has achieved the humane requirements of the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS) for lynx, coyote and bobcat. Another cable restraint trap, called The Collarum,® captures coyotes by throwing a self-loosening cable around the coyote’s neck and boasts a 100% target capture rate. In other words, during field studies, the trap never caught anything but a coyote. In further testimony of the trap’s humaneness, animal control officers are using it to capture stray dogs. While advances in technology that reduce human error are certainly welcome, the fact is there are limits to where technology will take us. Trapping wildlife is not a “one-size fits all.”
Animal protectionists are correct in noting that many trappers are reluctant to adopt less injurious technology. What animal protectionists neglect to say is that trapper resistance stems from three different areas. The first is economic. Traps constitute a major investment, especially in light of lower fur prices in part due to animal protectionist’s efforts to change the social acceptance of wearing fur. In this regard, trappers are no different than people who avoid replacing their gas guzzling cars with more efficient hybrids. Trappers also tend to be culturally conservative. Like farmers, trappers are reluctant to try new things because what they have works. Finally, a more intractable problem stems from trapper suspicion that the animal protectionists will never be satisfied with anything less than a total trap ban. Outsiders may dismiss such fears as groundless fear mongering. However, the legal actions taken by animal protectionist groups suggest the trappers’ concerns are not without warrant.
TRAPPING AS BAD ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY
Trapping’s alleged deleterious effect on the environment constitutes the second line of argument employed by animal protectionists. Recall that animal protectionists by-in-large adopt a minimalist view of human intervention into the affairs of wildlife. While they recognize that humanity has a role to play in relation to animals, the guiding principle appears to be Albert Schweitzer’s “Reverence for Life Ethic.” They argue that humans should only kill wildlife with serious justification. For many, serious justification would include protection of human life and species preservation as in overpopulation or threatened extinction. They also encourage the employment of habitat restriction and modification as a means of wildlife damage control, as could be done through fencing or other forms of habitat modification.
Animal protectionists assert that the trapping industry and wildlife damage control programs (such as the USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services agency and private wildlife control companies) constitute the worst expression of environmental stewardship. Here they strike at the strongest historic claims of the consumptive wildlife proponents, namely that trapping helps: 1. to keep nature in balance by removing surplus animals, 2. to resolve wildlife damage issues, such as livestock predation, and 3. to reduce the spread of zoonotic diseases.
Animal protectionists assert that nature is completely self-regulating. When animal populations lack balance, nature automatically makes the necessary adjustments. Humans must learn to not interfere because they usually caused the imbalance in the first place. For example, animal protectionists argue that coyote trapping induces coyotes to disperse over greater distances (causing problems elsewhere). Furthermore, trapping increases coyote recruitment rates as the remaining adults can better feed their young. Second, trapping fails to provide important environmental benefits because it has contributed to the extinction and/or threatened extinction of many species, such as the sea mink (extinct) and wolf (threatened).
As usual, animal protectionists raise some important issues, but issues separated from context and clear definitions only result in muddled thinking. First, when the wildlife managers speak of surplus animals they mean those animals that will die whether or not they are trapped. It is axiomatic that a habitat will only allow animals to survive that it can feed and house. The issue is whether trapping is additive to animal mortality, in which case reducing trapping pressure will result in higher animal numbers, or whether trapping is compensatory to animal mortality in which case reducing trapping pressure will have no effect on animal numbers. Different species have different mortality and fecundity rates and therefore respond to trapping pressure differently. This is why wildlife managers have different rules regarding season length and take limits. At issue is whether or not wildlife is considered a resource available for utilization. Since animal protectionists are disinclined to accept human utilization of wildlife, they would answer that wildlife is not a resource. Therefore, it should not surprise us that, in their view, trapping does not constitute a viable wildlife management practice. However, from a resource perspective, the post-trapping rebound in coyote populations is not a negative event but actually a positive one for it insures coyote survival and opportunity for a good harvest the following season.
Second, animal protectionists know full well that in the modern
Animal protectionists cast a great deal of ire on the wildlife damage control programs, especially the work performed by USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services (hereafter WS) which has historically administered predator control programs in the
At first glance, the claim that coyote trapping does not diminish livestock predation appears significant. Christian ethics would not support a policy that simply does not achieve the desired results. However, after a closer look at the data a different picture emerges. First, the trouble with averages is that not all ranchers suffer predation equally. Nevertheless assuming that all
Second, what about the problem of self-interest? It is easy for unaffected parties to diminish the significance of another’s loss. What if we turned the question around and asked how one would react to a shoplifter who stole over the course of a year 0.15% of your assets? Should you give the shoplifter a pass simply because it is such a small amount? It is true that weather killed more cattle than coyotes. However, ranchers cannot control weather. So should they not work to diminish the losses that are within their control? What if we broaden the question to cover damage other than simply livestock predation? Conover says that in a survey of 2 million agricultural producers, 24% said they had suffered damage from coyotes in the prior year 25% suffered raccoon damage, 9% suffered skunk damage. One can see that non-target captures are not always a true loss when considering that a landowner can suffer damage from multiple species.
What about animal protectionist assertion that trapping is not necessary to mitigate wildlife disease epidemics, such as rabies? If by rabies control, animal protectionists mean eliminate or drastically reduce the incidence of rabies in wildlife populations, then they are correct. Trapping, by itself, will not achieve that level of disease management. Ironically, to achieve that reduction in disease levels, trapping would have to reduce an animal population to threatened or endangered status. That would be similar to killing 5 of the 6 billion earth’s human population to control the spread of the flu. This is why the CDC does not recommend wholesale, nationwide trapping to control rabies; it is not cost-effective. But as before, animal protectionists do not provide the entire picture. While broad scale trapping is not recommended for disease control, writers of the Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control recommended for use in targeted locations as explained in the following quote:
However, limited control in high-contact areas (e.g., picnic grounds, camps, or suburban areas) may be indicated for the removal of selected high-risk species of wildlife.(9) The state wildlife agency and state health department should be consulted for coordination of any proposed vaccination or population-reduction programs. 
The effectiveness of high intensity trapping in designated areas is also supported by others. Rabies, being population density dependent, is vulnerable to population declines. The reason for this is due to the virus’ terminal nature. In order for the virus to continue living, it must find another host before it kills its present one. The longer it takes to find another host, the less likely it will find a new one before it kills its present one. In light of this reality, it is indeed strange to claim that trapping actually spreads the disease. Here again, the animal protectionists play with the meanings of words. In blaming the sportsmen for transporting infected raccoons and causing the Mid-Atlantic rabies epidemic, the COTW insinuated that hunting and trapping caused the epidemic. The fact is, the hunters’ desire to increase game numbers motivated them to relocate raccoons. But to suggest that hunting and trapping caused the epidemic carelessly confuses the motivation for an action with the action itself. The other claim, that trapping removes immune adult animals causing a reproductive spike of weaker and less immune animals, also flies in the face of their complaint that trapping is indiscriminate. Either trapping is discriminate or indiscriminate. It takes a special and rare situation for a trapper to be able to set a trap that will only capture animals of a certain age. Finally, it should be noted that trapping by private individuals costs states nothing. In fact, trapping is a revenue generator as trappers pay the state for the privilege to trap animals. Therefore, the actions of private trappers can be reasonably claimed to reduce the incidence of rabies because trapping can reduce the overall population of a species in a given locale. Furthermore, these trappers do their work in a cost-effective manner.
As noted above, how one understands humanity’s relationship to the planet will in large degree determine one’s decision and evaluation of the evidence and goals regarding environmental policy. Few topics bring this fact into sharper review than the issue of wildlife management of which trapping plays a controversial part. But trapping cannot be ignored. Humans and animals compete over natural resources. The fact is, humans must kill to live, be it directly on one’s own or through the use of surrogates. Becoming a vegan or vegetarian does not isolate one morally because clearing land and protecting crops causes harm to animals.
The thrust of this paper has been to help Christians recognize that the claims of animal protectionist groups, Christian or otherwise, need to be carefully evaluated. Whether or not readers find these explanations about the value of trapping convincing, the author hopes that it encourages environmentally cognizant Christians to think carefully about the complexities involved in wildlife management before backing any particular plan of action. The author suspects that most Christians, while not explicitly adopting animal protectionist ideology, have failed to properly consider the implications of adopting the hands-off view of creation espoused by animal protectionists. Perhaps, in their desire to correct past failings, these Christians do not realize that they risk jettisoning not only an important Christian doctrine, namely, that God made the earth for humanity, not vice-versa, but also unduly restricting humanity’s ability to extract renewable resources that wildlife provide. For example, one major Evangelical environmental group says that humans should avoid acting violently with the non-human creation. Regrettably, since they do not define what is meant by violence, uneducated Christians may think that trapping of animals under ecologically sustainable conditions is included.
While Scripture does not offer apodictic guidance on the use of wildlife, it does provide some helpful principles to consider when evaluating wildlife management policy. This writer believes Christians should accept our "dominion responsibilities." Animals, as all creation, belong ultimately to God. Haas says it well when he speaks of an order and purpose inherent in creation. Scripture and reason agree that there is something different about humans and animals that exceeds just higher intellectual ability. Whether the ontological claim is true or false, humans have authority over the animal kingdom. Privilege brings responsibility. In short, humanity is to treat God's property as God's property. This means that God's property is to be treated the way God wants it treated. To treat something above or below its station would be to make it an idol on the one hand, and worthless on the other. Scripture does appear to distinguish between domesticated animals (those directly under human control) and wildlife, while suggesting that human obligations are higher for domesticated animals. Nevertheless, in spite of their higher status, domesticated animals may still be eaten.
As for wildlife, humans have different obligations. The story of Noah exemplifies a key principle in sustainable ecology, namely that species matter more than individuals. God treated animals as groups but people as individuals and groups. The implication is that humans may kill animals but they should not exterminate species (see also Dt. 22:6). Scripture also clearly supports removal of wildlife posing threats to human interests and also for food (1 Sam 17:34-6; Lev 17:13). Individual animals do not have a sacrosanct right to life, but species have the right to exist. Thus humans are to practice proper management of animal populations in their encounters with wildlife.
Second, animal activists have overstated the negative aspects of trapping. Christ's acceptance of fishing provides a useful rubric by which to investigate the issue of the treatment of wild animals and trapping. Animal activists contend that fishing is cruel because fish suffer during the capture process. Despite the pain fish underwent, Christ never condemned fishing. In light of Christ’s actions as the perfect second Adam, this writer would suggest that Christians have the God-given right to use those means to capture wild animals for food etc. that are economically efficient, while considering animal pain. In other words, if there was another economically feasible way to capture fish that caused less suffering for fish, Christ would have taken it. Therefore, Christians are permitted to not only eat animals, they may trap them provided the techniques employed properly balance the human need for efficiency with God’s demand for us to respect His animal creation.
Stephen Vantassel is visiting lecturer in Theology at the Midlands Bible College and Adjunct Professor of Theology, Trinity Theological Seminary (