Leghold traps are smooth jawed, spring-operated traps designed to capture an animal by the foot or leg. In Victoria, leghold traps are used to trap rabbits, foxes and wild dogs.
Legal requirements for setting, use and sale
Leghold traps are permitted to be sold, set and used only under specified conditions. The sale, setting and use of all animal traps is regulated under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (POCTA) Act 1986 and POCTA Regulations 2019.
What species can they be used to catch?
In Victoria, leghold traps can be used to trap rabbits, foxes and wild dogs. Under the POCTA Regulations 2019 wild dogs are defined as an animal of the species Canis familiaris as declared under Part 8 of the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 (CALP Act).
Declared feral cats
Use for declared feral cats is also permitted but only in limited circumstances under Ministerial approval.
The feral or wild population of the cat has been declared as an established pest animal, under the CALP Act, on specified Crown land. Cats on other land have not been declared as established pest animals.
Leghold trapping of all other species is prohibited.
When is Ministerial approval required for the use of leghold traps?
Use of leghold traps for rabbits, foxes and wild dogs in urban areas can only be carried out where the person or organisation has applied for and been granted a Ministerial approval.
Urban area means an area of land that is predominantly —
- subdivided into allotments that, in the case of land used or to be used for residential purposes, are not larger than 0.4 hectares; and
- able to be used or developed under a planning scheme or interim development order for residential, industrial or commercial purposes; and
- provided with constructed streets and public utility services.
Declared feral cats
On 14 December 2019, a new Ministerial approval process was introduced which permits the use of large leghold traps for the control of declared feral cats under specific conditions on specified Crown Land in Victoria. This process allows an application to be made by public land managers on a case-by-case basis in limited circumstances, i.e. where eradication is achievable.
The general public are not permitted to use leghold traps for cats. Commercial pest controllers are also not permitted to use leghold traps for cats unless working under contract on a government control project for which approval has been granted.
Where can leghold traps be used?
Large leghold traps for foxes and wild dogs can only be used in areas approved by the Minister for Agriculture. They can only be set and used if the landowner or occupier of the land or, in the case of Crown land, the manager of the land, has given their consent.
Large leghold traps for foxes can be used Victoria-wide, and large leghold traps for wild dogs can be used in the areas listed in this legal instrument: POCTA Act section 15AB(3) Instrument (PDF - 321KB).
The areas in which leghold trapping of wild dogs is permitted are shown in these maps:
- POCTA Act Section 15AB(3) – Eastern Victoria Map (PDF - 3.4 MB)
- POCTA Act section 15AB(3) – Western Victoria Map (PDF - 2.4 MB)
Small leghold traps can only be set and used for rabbits, with the approval of the landowner or occupier of the land. They cannot be used or possessed on Crown land.
Leghold traps, both large and small, can only be used in urban areas with the approval of the Minister.
What size traps can be used and how is jaw spread measured?
Trap sizes are based on the jaw spread of the trap. This is the maximum distance between the internal metal surfaces of both jaws, when measured perpendicular to a line drawn through the jaw pivot points when the trap is in the set position (see arrow in the diagram).
Jaw spread must be:
- no more than 10 centimetres, for small leghold traps which are to be used only for rabbits
- between 10.1 and 14 centimetres, for large leghold traps used for foxes and declared feral cats
- between 13 and 15.5 centimetres for large leghold traps used for wild dogs.
What features must all leghold traps have?
The jaws of leghold traps must be smooth and not serrated. Each jaw of the trap must be padded with commercially manufactured rubber pads designed to be used for the particular brand, size and design of the trap.
Serrated steel-jawed leghold traps cannot be used to trap any animal and the sale of them is illegal.
The jaw of the trap must be offset so there is a distance of at least six millimetres between the metal parts of the jaws when the jaws are closed. There must be a spring in the anchor chain of the trap to act as a shock absorber for the purposes of reducing the chance of injury to the captured limb.
The anchor chain must also have a minimum of two swivels, with one located at each end of the anchor chain, so that the trap can twist if the animal struggles to escape. The anchor chain must be attached to the centre of the baseplate of the trap.
The pan tension of the trap must be adjustable so that it can be set at a tension required for the target species to trigger the trap. Correctly setting pan tension can help minimise the chances of capturing non-target species (e.g. pets and wildlife).
How often must leghold traps be checked?
Leghold traps should be checked as regularly as possible, to minimise injury, pain and distress of trapped animals. An animal must not be left alive in a leghold trap for more than 24 hours, therefore traps must be inspected at least once every 24 hours.
Until 1 December 2024, the Minister may approve a longer period, up to 72 hours, for leghold trapping of wild dogs under the Victorian Wild Dog Program. Any approval applies only for leghold traps set for wild dogs by a person employed or authorised for the purposes of the Victorian government program for managing wild dogs.
Approval has been granted from 1 April 2020 to 30 June 2022, for the areas listed in this legal instrument: POCTA Regulation 38(2) Instrument (PDF - 291KB).
The areas are shown in these maps:
- POCTA Regulation 38(2) – Eastern Victoria Map (PDF - 3.7 MB)
- POCTA Regulation 38(2) – Western Victoria Map (PDF - 2.5 MB)
What are the conditions of releasing or disposing of animals trapped by leghold traps?
It is recommended that removal of animals is done by a person experienced in handling the target species or under the supervision of such a person.
Animals that are declared pests, as defined in the CALP Act, must be humanely destroyed as soon as reasonably possible.
Declared pests include wild dogs, foxes, rabbits, hares, feral pigs, and feral goats.
A list of declared pest animals is available.
To humanely destroy means causing the death of an animal by a means that results in immediate loss of consciousness and then death without recovering consciousness.
Any other animals, inadvertently caught in a trap, must be treated according to the relevant requirements below.
Any non-target animals inadvertently caught in a trap must be taken to a veterinary practitioner for treatment as soon as possible if injured, or if severely injured, may be humanely destroyed.
If a dog or cat, other than a wild dog or declared feral cat, is trapped it must be either:
- taken to the local council; or
- in an unincorporated area – treated in accordance with an approved process or taken to a neighbouring local council, or an animal shelter, where there is an agreement in place to manage the animals.
If it is another species normally kept in captivity, but not wildlife, it must be taken to an animal shelter or other appropriate animal care facility as soon as reasonably possible.
Uninjured wildlife should be released promptly in accordance with the Wildlife Act 1975.
Wild animals, which are not normally kept domestically and are not considered wildlife (e.g. an Indian myna or non-native rat) must be released at the point of capture or humanely destroyed.
What are the penalties for illegal sale, setting or use of leghold traps?
If prosecuted, the maximum penalties for illegal sale, setting or use of traps include fines of up to 240 penalty units, or imprisonment for two years, in the case of a natural person, and fines of up to 1,200 penalty units, in the case of a body corporate.
Traps not permitted to be set or used can only be sold to museums or collectors. Sellers of traps are responsible for ensuring they are only selling such traps for collection purposes.
Leghold traps are regulated under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2019, which can be accessed at legislation.vic.gov.au.
For more information about leghold traps, approved areas and Ministerial approvals call the Customer Service Centre on 136 186 or email email@example.com.