Trapping could help with recent rabies scare, group says

Some New Brunswick trappers say they're the easiest answer to the problem of rabies in light of a recent scare in St. Stephen.

A raccoon in St. Stephen tested positive for the virus

A recent case of rabies in St. Stephen has spurred some New Brunswick trappers to promote their industry as a possible solution.

New Brunswick Trappers say they can help with a recent rabies scare in St. Stephen. (Courtesy of the New Brunswick Trappers and Fur Harvesters Federation )
Trapper James Marriner says the Department of Health and Department of Natural Resources used to use fur trappers to combat rabies, but the program no longer exists.

"There were a number of years that trappers were brought in to trap the animals, it was live trapping and the animals were inoculated and that did slow up the spread of raccoon rabies that was coming up the eastern seaboard," said Marriner.

"That program hasn't been ongoing now for a few years and here we are," he said.

Earlier this month, the provincial government confirmed a raccoon seen acting strangely in a St. Stephen backyard on May 29 had rabies. A family in the community has since started a series of inoculations because their pets had contact with the animal.

The provincial government did not step in with a trapping program to ensure other animals in the area are not carrying the disease, so the town has hired a wildlife officer to do some trapping, Mayor John Quartermain told CBC's Information Morning Saint John.

Trapped animals will be sent to the Department of Health in Fredericton for testing, he said.

A second raccoon tested negative for the viral disease that affects the nervous system.

Rabies is uncommon in New Brunswick, but can be deadly.

It is most commonly spread by being bitten by an infected animal, but can also be spread when broken skin or mucous membranes come into contact with infected matter from a rabid animal, such as touching drool, or being scratched.

Jonathan Cormier, a DNR biologist, says diseases spread faster when a species is overpopulated.

“As the population increases, the better chances are, that if a disease is present, that it can be passed on more quickly, and spread more quickly," he said.

Trapping — even live trapping — helps slow the spread of disease, curbs overpopulation and brings money into the province, said Marriner.

Animal pelts brought in close to $1.7 million to New Brunswick in 2012-2013, according to the Department of Natural Resources. That's up from about $1.5 million in 2011-2012.

The demand for raccoon pelts, fuelled primarily by China and Russia, doubled the value of their pelts last year to $24.70 each, up from $12.60.