Small mammal trapping in Morocco/West Sahara

The excellent recently posted report of a trip to Western Sahara emphasised the importance of measurements to correctly identify gerbils. Having nearly been arrested for small mammal trapping in Spain, I am now wary of taking mammal traps abroad.

Does anyone know the legal situation with small mammal trapping in Morocco/West Sahara? I’m going to be there in February and I’d rather not have trouble taking traps into the country or using them when there.






  • Richard Webb

    Steve I think an equally important question is the actual ethics of small mammal trapping abroad just for listing purposes. I stopped trapping many years ago and count nothing in the hand as I have seen too many people leave traps set with inadequate food or bedding for too long with the inevitable end result of mammal deaths. Trapping as part of a proper documented scientific project is one thing, uncontrolled trapping for listing another comp!etely. I feel the same about ringing birds for listing purposes and don’t count birds in the hand.

  • stevebabbs

    You do make an interesting point Richard. Personally my big ethical struggle with both birding and mammal watching is my CO2 emissions and I really do struggle with that one because I am very aware that I have a pretty large carbon footprint, caused mainly by my numerous flights. For me personally – and I’m certainly not saying that’s its the right thing, just my viewpoint – the ethical issues of small mammal trapping seem minor compared to that huge one.

    • Richard Webb

      Fair point Steve. I balance my guilt by knowing I haven’t personally contributed to the over-population of the planet, eat considerably less than most people I know, re-cycle most things, buy fewer commodities than almost everyone I know & set up an international wildlife charity. We could stop travelling but that reduces the financial benefit that wildlife tourism created & potentially reduces the value of protecting wildlife in the eyes of locals.

  • CharlesHood

    The collective carbon footprint of any given bird tour must have much more planetary impact than the death of a rodent in a trap? Or the effect of a person who eats beef and stays home vs a vegan who travels? And of course trapping can be done poorly or well, as with everything else. As I type this I am in Ketchikan, Alaska, and I put out 7 traps last night. I out them out at 4 pm and collected them before 9 pm. Each trap had bedding and plenty of food. (Each trap also had zilch in it by collection time, but that’s beside the point.) Had I caught a Keen’s Mouse, yes, I would have listed it eventually — whenever I get around to updating my decade-out-of-date list —- but mainly I am curious “what’s around.” I am in an ecology new to me, and I am just curious to know what lives here. I am sure if I had caught something that said wee beastie would have preferred NOT to interact with me, but I would like to hope that the oatmeal and peanuts I leave behind afterwards would be compensation for lost foraging time. Further, it’s reasonably certain nobody will be here after me trapping ever again … unlike bird tours that tape the same section of Costa Rican forest year after year. / Charles Hood, Palmdale, CA

    • Richard Webb

      The carbon footprints of any group mammal watching are just as bad as any bird tour to the same destination so I’m not sure what your beef with birding is when I understand that you have a world list of over 5000 yourself. Your trapping techniques may be better than some but many others do not have your high standards and leave traps unattended for far too long. Any death of a mammal in a trap is to my mind considerably worse than a bird taped out numerous times although personally I’m generally as much against taping as you are hence the reason I see fewer birds than others doing similar trips.

  • Vladimir Dinets

    The only thing I ever managed to trap around Ketchikan was Keen’s mouse, but I easily found 4 species of rodents by spotlighting, and that was before I got a thermal imager. Since I got it, I seldom use traps, they are simply less effective for exploring local diversity. Of course, it’s easier to set traps and go to sleep than to walk around all night, but in one night of trapping you normally get only a small fraction of local fauna, especially in places with lots of arboreal and/or herbivorous (rather than granivorous) species. The only exception is animals living in dense grass or fully subterranean.

    I think the fact that many people don’t know how to trap properly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it; it’s like saying you shouldn’t drive because some other people do it poorly and cause accidents. The real problem is that even if you do all you can to trap animals safely, sterilize the traps after every use, and check them every hour, you still can’t completely eliminate the possibility of death or injury for the animal. Tails and noses routinely get damaged in box traps, small animals get caught in cage traps and get stuck trying to squeeze out, mothers get separated from their offspring, predators extract captured animals, shrews drown in pitfall traps, elephants step on traps, stinging ants invade them, etc., etc. Not all species can make use of bedding material such as cotton, and at very low temperatures it’s not enough (generally you should never use metal traps in sub-zero temperatures).

    With a few exceptions, I now use traps only in places with poorly known fauna, where trapping results might be of scientific interest and you need a tissue sample if you catch something potentially new.

  • stevebabbs

    I seem to have started a debate, rather unintenionally. I will say I have hardly ever used small mammal traps. Although mainly this is because rodents aren’t generally my priority and I have no interest in the ‘numerical’ side of listing.

    I have total respect for Richard’s viewpoint and I totally agree with comments about taping birds out in areas where they probably are subjected to it every few days. However gerbils are smart, in my view it a lot less significant than the carbon cost of getting there, and I would like to identify them correctly, so I am considering it for this trip but I certainly won’t be leaving them out overnight while I sleep; they’ll be out while I’m spotlighting and will have adequate bedding and food. Tbh it won’t be me doing it: I’ll leave it to a companion who has much more experience at using them.

    However I do not want to have troubles at immigration or with police of other officals so if anyone does know the legal side I would be very grateful.

  • Vladimir Dinets

    I brought a few traps to WS and Morocco last summer. Nobody asked any questions. I don’t think small mammal traps are illegal to own in any country, because even if trapping small wild mammals is illegal, people still use them for controlling house pests. Mistnets are a very different story: for example, in Japan you can get into major trouble if you own or import them without a permit.

  • vmoser

    I have another point to make about small mammal trapping: Reporting your sightings to one of the numerous platforms, best with pictures and measurements, can be really useful. The distribution and abundance of small rodents are often poorly known and I think this is where mammalwatching can make a difference. For me trapping is like bird ringing: I stress a single animal and might even risk its death, but in the end, at least I can contribute a little bit something to the knowledge and maybe protection of the whole species.

    And if one wants to go further and there are dead animals, consider dropping them of at a museum.

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