By Molly Igoe
On Halloween, the Dining Hall was made spooky with dessert skeletons, gravestone cupcakes, and other festive Halloween décor. I was not prepared, however, to see that they were serving beaver, alpaca, and llama.
At first, I thought it was a joke, like on April Fool’s when they served alligator and other ridiculous food, but Director of Dining Services Don Stanwick assured it me it was not a joke, and that is was the Dining Hall’s third annual “exotic food night.”
I am all for making the Dining Hall festive for holidays like Halloween, but I was expecting something less insidious, and I was quite disappointed in the decision to serve these kinds of foods.
There has been a recent uptick in many trendy restaurants and eateries including exotic and rare meat on their menus. While beavers, alpacas, and llamas aren’t endangered species like lions or tigers, they are still not protected in the capacity that they should be.
The problem I have with exotic foods is that the industries who prey on these animals are under-regulated, and in some cases, wholly unregulated, with almost no protections in place for the wildlife.
Last summer, as a wildlife policy intern for the Humane Society of the United States, I learned firsthand just how little protection animals like beavers have in Maryland, and in most other states.
Beavers are classified as furbearers, which are defined as mammals who are trapped or hunted for their fur. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, other regulated furbearer species include bobcat, coyote, fisher, gray fox, long tailed weasel, mink, muskrat, otter, raccoon, red fox, and skunk.
Before interning at the Humane Society, I had no idea what trapping entailed, or what traps look like. The other interns and I met with a trapping expert one day who demonstrated how to use them on a stuffed dog. To give you an idea of how dangerous they are we had to stand at least 15-feet away at all times so we wouldn’t get injured.
According to “Mammal trapping: a review of animal welfare standards of killing and restraining traps,” by Iossa, Soulsberry, and Harris, some of the more common traps are steel jaw foothold/leg hold traps, which are two pieces of jagged metal that close on an animal’s foot or leg once it is stepped on; cable snares, which loop around the animal’s body; conibear traps, which are designed to kill an animal instantly; neck snares, which strangle the animal to death; and drowning traps, which are primarily used for beavers, and drown the animal.
Maryland has pretty relaxed regulations on trapping; we allow almost every trapping method, we don’t require a trapper to file a report, we don’t require a trap ID to be put on traps to track a trapper, and we don’t require that non-target animals that are caught be reported, according to Born Free USA’s “State Trapping Report Card.” For all of these reasons, we were given a D+ rating, lower than many other states.
I could go on further about how terrible trapping is because I wrote a 12-page paper about it last year, but by now most people reading this are wondering why they should care.
By cooperating with the trapping industry to get beaver meat or beaver fur, etc., you are using a method that has little to no regard for ethical or humane standards. Beavers and other furbearers are often left in traps for over 24 hours; sometimes they are not yet dead, and die slowly and painfully from their injuries, or from predation by another animal.
Even though I am a vegetarian and don’t eat any meat, if I chose to eat chicken and beef again, I could at least take comfort in the fact that these industries are more regulated than the trapping industry.
Similarly, alpaca and llama are pretty new to the U.S., and have only recently become a popular food for people who are tired of beef or steak. While they are both regulated by the USDA, since they are fairly new, there are considerably fewer regulations in place than for other livestock like cows.
While I appreciate the Dining Hall trying to expand their menu and options, I don’t agree with their propensity for “exotic foods,” which tend to be animals from industries that are under-regulated with plenty of loopholes for farmers and trappers to bypass.