Calls to ban snares have been renewed after an investigation found hundreds of foxes are trapped for their fur each year at a one-man hub in rural Wales.
David Sneade, who sells the fur to dealers in Sweden and the US, clubs the animals to death in a national park, in what critics condemned as a “grisly” business.
He dismembers the bodies and stretches the skins on racks — and posts about it all on Facebook.
Members of the public who have seen him battering the animals to death said it was “incredibly disturbing” and left them feeling traumatised.
The trapper kills about 300 a year — but he told The Independent what he does is less cruel than the natural world.
He uses the foxes’ own brain fluid to preserve the pelts in a workshop described by investigators as “macabre”, and leaves the skinned corpses out for birds to feed on.
In a video taken by one witness, he “uses multiple brutal blows” on a still-breathing fox, before crushing it to death with his foot. Fur trappers snare and bludgeon animals rather than shooting them so their pelts are not spoilt by bullet wounds and blood.
The witness said the sight was horrific: “The way the fox was handled was disgusting and incredibly disturbing.
“The first smash round the head left it in severe pain and struggling for breath. He dropped the animal on the floor and stood on it to stop it escaping.
“It lay there struggling, staring me in the eyes before he smashed it round the head with a stick again. This kind of behaviour has to stop.”
Mr Sneade, 60, openly posts photos on Facebook of the furs and skins from animals trapped in the Pembrokeshire coast national park. However, since news of his work was made public, he has made his Facebook page private.
He says he has been killing wildlife for 50 years, but in recent years fur prices have been so low they don’t even cover the cost of shipping.
Setting snares is legal in the UK provided the devices are not designed to kill.
The Hunt Investigation Team (HIT), which disclosed Mr Sneade’s trade, says it is unregulated, and snares should be banned. It claimed he goes into Wildlife Trust reserves, but he denied this.
Mr Sneade admits he sets snares along hedgerows and country lanes, then uses a wooden bat to stun the foxes caught in snares, but insists he gets the landowners’ permission.
Pictures on his Facebook profile show fox bodies skinned and dismembered, with knives and a stretching rack.
A photo from 2018 shows him posing with numerous fox carcasses, another from January last year shows a freezer full of furs in plastic bags, and another shows a living fox with its neck caught in a snare, which he described as “a good mountain one”.
The corpse of a red fox pictured is described as a “63in whopper”, and other pictures show pelts and skinned corpses he has strung up.
With a photo of a fox caught in the countryside, he wrote: “Nice big deep red dog — be lucky to get 15 quid for it.”
The stench is palpable from the road, according to the investigators.
“The garden is littered with fox skeletons and he prepares carcasses as bait to entice his next victims in to snare,” said one.
The witnesses also found skinned fox carcasses discarded in hedgerows, and other foxes that died in snares and left to rot.
One said: “I still feel traumatised.
“I saw a snared fox being dragged out of a hedge, and on another occasion a freshly skinned fox carcass disregarded beneath a hedge on the roadside. I feel like I was feeling all the pain and suffering these beautiful wild animals went through.
“I still can’t get the horrific images out of my head. It’s been very difficult knowing this cruelty would continue again and again.”
Mr Sneade told The Independent that even though fur prices have fallen, he keeps killing foxes to protect lambs and ground-nesting birds, and leaving the carcasses out means they are “recycled back to nature”.
He said he kills up to 300 animals over a 10-week period from November to January each year, leaving the carcasses for ravens, buzzards, magpies and jays to feed on.
“Life itself is cruel in the natural world [but] less [so] in my hands,” he told The Independent.
He said sometimes he leaves carcasses behind if the fox was suffering mange so the fur is of no use but he removes them later. “Remember I got to get around every snare in the winter, and there’s not much light,” he said.
“There's nothing wrong in skinning them — I am used to it.”
Killing them was sparing foxes from mange and disease, he said.
And he claimed he shows respect to the animals he kills: “It’s very hard to explain but it’s fairly deep down.”
The Welsh government’s code of practice on snares says it is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal under someone’s control including while held in snares and the means by which they are killed.
The code also advises: “Dispatch foxes quickly and humanely,” and “As soon as is practically possible, remove and dispose of all carcasses appropriately in accordance with legislative requirements.” It adds: “The purpose of the snare is to hold the fox and avoid causing unnecessary suffering whilst the fox is held, until it can be killed humanely.”
Mr Sneade, who denies what he does is inhumane, was reported to the RSPCA last year and interviewed.
Asked about a visit from the RSPCA, Mr Sneade replied: “Everything was OK and no court order.”
And he said he checks the snares — about 200 — before daylight each day.
Earlier this year, Mr Sneade was fined £100 with £200 costs for fishing offences when catching crabs.
But a HIT investigator said: “Wildlife should be safe in the UK’s national parks — not snared, bludgeoned and crushed for fur.”
Claire Bass, executive director of HSI/UK, said: “Politicians acted with compassion almost 20 years ago when the government banned fur farming in this country, so the public will be shocked to discover that animals are still suffering and dying for the cruel trade here in the UK, and in a national park where they should be protected.
“The legal loophole that allows foxes to be snared and killed for fur needs to be closed. The UK banned fur farming because it is morally unjustifiable to subject animals to appalling suffering in the name of frivolous fashion and vanity.”
The UK still allows imports of real fur from species including rabbit, mink, fox, coyote and chinchilla, which the government has faced pressure to end.
A spokeswoman for the RSPCA, which has prosecuting powers, said they could not comment on the video but confirmed it had been passed to them, adding: “Unfortunately we are unable to discuss complaints about specific people and what action may have been taken.
“We understand how frustrating that is for animal lovers but releasing information could prejudice a future prosecution or could lead to us being fined.
“We are so grateful to people who report suspected animal suffering to us and we would like to reassure people we will always look into and, if necessary, investigate any complaints made to us about animal welfare.
“A lot of the time issues will be dealt with by advice and education and it is not always appropriate to publicise this information for legal reasons.”
She said snares were cruel and indiscriminate in what they catch, and the RSPCA supports an outright ban on their use in Wales.
“The public is urged to never try and free an animal from a snare or trap,” she said.
Snaring is banned in all but five European countries, including the UK.
Animal activists say snared animals desperately struggle to escape, may be strangled or may suffer agonising and life-threatening injuries and a slow death.
Mr Sneade gave The Independent permission to reproduce any of his photos on his timeline but some were too gruesome to share.
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