Why Traditional ‘Pest-Control’ Doesn’t Work

We live on a small island which is getting rather overcrowded. As we fight for space with other residents, it is inevitable there will be some clashes.

Traditionally the answer has been to shoot, gas, poison, hunt, snare or trap. But scientific studies are increasingly showing that methods which focus on removing individual animals, whether through killing them or through removing them by using a cage trap, are inferior.

Victory attained by violence is tantamount to defeat, for it is momentary.

Why lethal methods fail #

Quite simply, other animals remaining in the area will move in and breed to replace any killed or removed.

Removing rodents usually only leaves a temporary void, soon re-filled by immigrants and the rapidly proliferating descendants of surviving animals
G Mason and K E Littin

Animals are attracted to an area by territory availability, food and shelter. If all these things remain in place and individual animals are removed or killed, animals in surrounding territories will soon move in to take advantage of the available resource. Lethal methods may bring about a short term improvement but it won’t last and it would be necessary to keep killing. We suspect this is why most pest control companies use these methods – the repeat business is much more lucrative than actually solving the problem!


Other issues with lethal control #

Not only are lethal methods ineffective, they’re also dangerous and cruel.


Poison #

Poison is often used to kill rats and mice but its use on many other species is illegal. The first issue with using poison is that, in order for there to be a significant pest issue, they must have access to food and water. Trying to entice animals to eat a block of poison rather than whatever other food is available is very difficult. Rodents are intelligent animals and naturally wary of anything new. They quickly make the association between the bait and their friends dying and stop eating it.

The second issue is that rodents are evolving immunity to the poisons used to kill them. Warfarin used to be commonly used but no longer has the desired effect due to overuse.

Poison also kills indiscriminately. When a nursing female is affected, her dependent babies will be left to starve slowly.

Most rodenticides kill by causing the animal to bleed internally. Death can take several days and is excruciating.

Anticoagulant poisons, the most common means of controlling rodents, generally take several days to kill, during which time they cause distress, disability and/or pain
G Mason and K E Littin

Although called ‘rodenticides’, the poisons used to kill rodents do not exclusively harm them. They are just as dangerous to humans, pets, and other wildlife as they are to rodents. Every year there are tragic stories of dogs, hedgehogs etc consuming poison intended for rodents and suffering terribly. Even if deployed in a way to prevent non-target species from accessing it, poisoned animals are often then consumed by predators leading to secondary poisoning of animals such as foxes and birds of prey.

Poisoning is a significant mortality factor in red kite populations
Anticoagulant rodenticides in red kites (Milvus milvus) in Britain 2015

Used inside your home, poison brings the very real risk of animals dying within your house, often in cavities which are not easily accessed. You’re then left with decaying bodies and the resulting smell, flies, maggots and health risks.


Glue traps #

Glue traps are literally boards which are covered in glue. They are placed in areas the rodents commonly pass through and the animals become stuck to them. This either enables the pest controller/householder to kill the stuck animals, or they’re left to die from dehydration, starvation or secondary issues such as blood loss from damage caused by escape attempts. These are truly evil contraptions and a bill has passed which will make them illegal for public use in England.

Sticky boards, to which rodents become adhered by the feet and fur until they are killed or simply eventually die, ...raise very serious welfare concerns...rodents are likely to experience pain and distress through being trapped, the physical effects of the adhesive on functioning, and trauma resulting from panic and attempts to escape, such as forceful hair removal, torn skin and broken limbs
G Mason and K E Littin


Snap Traps #

Snap traps involve a bar deploying on to the target animal’s head or neck to cause death. Even at their best, these traps commonly take up to three minutes to kill. Living for three minutes with a catastrophic head or neck injury must involve unimaginable pain and fear. And that’s the best case scenario.

7–14% of wild rodents caught by snap traps may be injured without being instantly killed
G Mason and K E Littin

Snap traps can also commonly harm non-target animals and wildlife rescues often see hedgehogs suffering horrendous injuries from this sort of trap.


What about trapping the animals and releasing them elsewhere? #

There is a widespread public belief that live capture and relocation is a humane solution to wildlife conflicts in and around the home and garden. Research to date shows that the technique is not particularly humane. Relocated animals released in an area already containing the species move extensively in an effort to find a new home not already occupied by other individuals. Mortality of such relocated animals is high. In addition, removal of animals may create a vacuum at the problem site which is quickly filled by new animals.
Maryland Taskforce on Non Lethal Wildlife Management.

It may seem more humane to catch the problem animal in a trap and relocate them elsewhere. But studies have shown that animals relocated in this way have a poor survival rate. Territorial species may be attacked by animals already resident in the area, causing them to travel considerable distances in an attempt to find their own new territory. Without knowledge of sources of shelter and food in the new area, relocated individuals are at greatly increased risk of succumbing to starvation or predation.


So what is the answer?  #

Changes to the habitat are the key to humane and effective methods of wildlife control. Animals are attracted by food, shelter and by safe areas in which to nest. By identifying and removing those things, the animals can be discouraged from breeding and encouraged to disperse. Making the habitat unsuitable to the species in question…is a much more…effective procedure for controlling the offending animals than just attempting to…remove individual animals.
Walter E Howard
Biological control of vertebrate pests

Put simply, the ‘pest’ is a symptom, not the problem itself. Killing the pest is a bit like catching drips from a leak in a bucket. It looks like you’ve solved the problem because your carpet is no longer getting wet, but until you fix the broken pipe, more drips will keep coming.

Preventative methods such as rodent-proofing are ...humane, as well as an essential — and probably under-used — component of effective control.
G Mason and K E Littin

Our articles at https://helpwildlife.co.uk/advice/problem-wildlife/ detail how to use holistic, humane methods of habitat modification, prevention and deterrence to tackle some of the most common scenarios. If these don’t answer your questions, we are happy to offer free, general advice regarding humane wildlife deterrence (just contact us via the form on the bottom of each article) or we’ve gathered details of some companies which specialise in no-kill pest control here.

Updated on December 9, 2023