A Must-Read for Humane Trapping

Department of Conservation —  08/02/2023

Some guidance around humane and compassionate predator control.

By the Department of Conservation

By now, you’ve probably heard of Predator Free 2050, the ambitious goal to rid Aotearoa New Zealand of rats, possums, and mustelids (stoats, weasels, and ferrets) by mid-century, to allow our vulnerable native species to flourish. We’re excited for this future New Zealand, and we hope you are too – because to get there, we need people all over the country to take part. 

A mohua/yellowhead on Anchor Island in Tamatea/Dusky Sound, their conservation status is ‘at risk – declining’
📷 (c) Leon Berard, leonberardphotography.co.nz

Things are off to a great start for the Predator Free 2050 goal, with clever tools in development and predator eradication and control projects underway. Exciting community initiatives are cropping up all over the place, like Predator Free Wellington’s work on the Miramar Peninsula, a charter boat company making a difference in Tamatea/Dusky Sound, and Wainui Beach school children building trapping tunnels. And individual people all over Aotearoa are taking action on their patch too. New Zealanders are backyard trapping, planting natives, and inspiring neighbours to join the predator free movement.

Thanks to New Zealanders of all walks of life pitching in, the future where kiwi lurch across our backyards is getting ever closer. But as we work hard to protect our precious native animals, it’s important to remember that the predators we’re killing are animals too.

Protecting our native plants and animals the compassionate way

Introduced predators are not ‘bad’, they’re just in the wrong place.

Our native species evolved over millions of years without any mammalian predators around, so they don’t know how to protect themselves against rats, mustelids and possums.

As a result, many of our native birds, bats, frogs, and lizards are declining at an alarming rate – over 4,000 species are threatened or at risk of extinction, one of the highest proportions in the world.

A huge portion of our native species are unique to Aotearoa – if they’re gone from here, they’re gone from everywhere.

Archeys frog, one of our native frogs/pepeketua, their conservation status is ‘at risk – declining’ and globally critically endangered.
📷 (c) James Reardon, JamesReardon.org 

We have to remove introduced predators for the sake of our precious plants and animals, but it’s important we don’t lose sight of our humanity along the way. As kind, compassionate, nature-loving Kiwi people, we should treat rats, mustelids and possums with respect and end their lives as humanely as we can.

Three tips for trapping with animal welfare in mind

Here are three tips for trappers to keep animal welfare top of mind in our predator free mahi.

1. Use traps that have passed the NAWAC testing guidelines

The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) has developed a trap-testing guideline so that traps can be assessed in a standardised way and ensure an acceptable level of animal welfare. This guide will help you pick the right trap for the right pest species.

DOC recommends the use of traps that have passed these NAWAC testing guidelines to help make sure that trapped animals do not suffer unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress.  It is worth noting that the use of some traps has been restricted or prohibited under the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

A ‘pass’ only applies to the particular species that was tested, because a trap that kills ship rats in a humane way, won’t necessarily be humane for, say, possums.

Similarly, the ‘pass’ only applies to the specific version of the trap design that was tested. Be aware that if a trap is modified by the user, or updated by the manufacturer, its welfare performance could be affected.

DOC series trap in nature with the Predator Free tohu sprayed on the side.

2. Learn best practice trapping methods from our guide and course

As well as using the right kind of trap, it’s important to be clued in about best practice methods to maximise the chance that only the target pest species will venture into your traps.

Factors like the size of the access holes in the trap box can have a huge influence on animal welfare. If a ferret wandered into a DOC 150 trap, for example, it may not meet its end in a humane way.

DOC’s Predator Free 2050 A Practical Guide to Trapping is a fantastic resource to guide you through best practice trapping methods for mustelids (stoats, ferrets and weasels), rats and possums. The DOC and Predator Free NZ Trust websites contain a wealth of helpful information too.

Rockwren/pīwauwau/tuke in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, their conservation status is ‘threatened – nationally endangered’.
📷 Jemma Welch, DOC

We also highly recommend the Predator Trapping Methods course, delivered by Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology/Te Pūkenga in partnership with DOC. Available either as a two-day workshop with a practical field component, or fully-online, the course gives you the knowledge and skills to manage effective and best practice pest control trapping programmes – and the micro-credential to prove it.

3. Get one-on-one technical advice from people  

Even with a copy of A Practical Guide to Trapping and Predator Trapping Methods course under your belt, having a trapping expert to ring can be a huge help when a specific question pops up.

You don’t have to be on your trapping journey alone as there are heaps of technical experts on call to support you in best practice trapping.

Your city or regional council may be able to provide advice on trapping in your area. And remember, DOC has a wonderful team of Predator Free Rangers that can help point you in the right direction.

Joining a community group is also a good way to start your trapping learning journey. It can help you connect to other trappers dealing with similar introduced predators, challenges, and environments. You can view a map of groups in your area on the Predator Free NZ Trust website and on Trap.NZ.

Every trap makes a difference

With these three tips in mind, our predator free movement can practice our Kiwi values of kindness, compassion, and respect in the way we trap.

As trappers, it’s easy for us to get caught up in the nitty gritty of traps, baits, and catches. For many of us, the satisfaction of finding a stoat in our trap is the motivation we need to keep checking that trap, rain or shine. With a long road to a predator free New Zealand ahead, we should absolutely celebrate every little success along the journey.

But we don’t trap because we enjoy killing animals. We do it because it’s necessary to save our precious native birds, lizards, insects, and plants from extinction.

That stoat in our trap can mean the difference between a clutch of healthy mohua chicks surviving to adulthood or none making it out of the nest. With every catch, we’re one step closer to that wonderful Aotearoa full of flourishing native wildlife, flowering rātā and lurching kiwi. Together, we are moving one step closer to a predator free New Zealand.

A person holding a wooden DOC series trap with the Predator Free tohu sprayed on the side.

3 responses to A Must-Read for Humane Trapping


    What you state really blows me away!! Be humane you say but you still keep spreading that revolting, hideous poison all over our land, the way these poor animals die is nothing but evil.


    Some very good points brought up here for D.O.C. to consider. Here is another one. Until Government brings in regulations around the ownership and breading of domestic cats, any trapping done by New Zealanders around the country is pretty much futile. I catch more cats than rats, and my land borders the Ruamahunga river! In the time I have lived here (20 years) I have trapped and killed well over a 100 cats! We have towns people continually dumping kittens in the countryside, not taking responsibility for putting the down. I have now adapted all my traps to catch cats as well as rats.


    Humaneness is in the eye of the beholder, as a possum can be snapped on its nose, pulling out of a kill trap within seconds, thus failing the Nawac test for humanness (of which states no escapee’s) when another trap can be altered continuously from that of what was originally presented until it catches the required 10 out of 10 animals and pass, only to be promoted in the real world as the origin model to have past NAWAC. Real life field research showed that 15% plus animals were release alive after 20 minutes swinging in a head clamp. Strangely toxins are not also measured for humanness comparative to traps. Intense pain for 4 to 2,4 hours seems O.k to some. Why is it harder and harder to use what most commercial hunters would agree to be humane, cyanide poison is fast acting and non target captures c an be easily avoided in enviroMate100. Why do DOC not include enviroMate100 pre feed and trapping management into their training program’s it would definitely improve capture success whilst lifting the level of humanness ? Some could argue its inhumane to kill something regardless the time till death. As a professional contractor we en devour to do our job to the highest standards to ensure management that delivers the least harm to non target species and suffering to captured targets. Shane Hyde (President N.Z Feral Action Group)