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Live Traps for Cats
Prepared by Alex Dutcher, Hono O Na Pali Seabird Mitigation Project

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Safety Concerns

  • Non-Target Species

    • Live traps must be checked often (Daily where possible)

    • Provide seabird colonies with a buffer during prospecting and breeding season

  • In the case of accidental native bird capture

    • Observe captured bird for signs of injury – call local rehabilitation or research group if injured bird is found

    • Remove trapping gloves and carefully and gently reach into trap and wrap hands around the wings of the bird to prevent flapping

    • Once the bird is securely held, remove it from the trap and release, or if seabird, place head first into a nearby burrow, if available.

Click to See Full Sized Images

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Trap Types

  • Sizes

    •  32” – Small trap used for cats, capable of catching large rats

    • 36” – Large trap used for cats, rats escape through large mesh

  • Single-Door

    • Typically use food-based baits, curiosity lures, sexual lures, or visual lures to trap cats

  • Double-Door

    • Typically un-baited, set in trails and corridors

Click to See Full Sized Images

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(Photo Source: trap Live Trap)

Set-Up, Modification, and Maintenance

  • Assembly

    • Traps ship collapsed. Release the hooks holding the sides together, lift one side to raise the trap into a box shape. The door(s) should close automatically once the trap is square.

    • Lower the support bar(s) into place and secure with hooks

    • Secure the back door (in single door traps using hooks at the back of the trap.

  • Trigger

    • The trigger mechanism controls both pan height and trap sensitivity

    • Using needle-nose pliers, bend the hook of the trigger assembly to a less severe angle to allow the door to fall with light pressure on the pan (Photo 2)

    • The pressure required to set off the pan should equal the weight of a rat (around 150g)

    • Test fire extensively both before and after deploying a trap in the field.

  • Pan Height

    • Height of the pan can be raised or lowered depending on preferences. The pan should be at least a few inches above the floor of the trap when the trap is set

    • To raise the pan height, push the hook towards the back of the trap and pull the loop towards the front of the trap, increasing the space between the hook and trigger loop (Photo 1)

  • Scent Control

    • Only handle traps with scent-free gloves!​

Click to See Full Sized Images

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(Photo Source: trap Live Trap)

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1. How to adjust trip pan height. Top – increase, bottom - decrease

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2. How to adjust sensitivity. Top – lighter, bottom - heavier

Where to Set

  • Large-Scale Site Selection

    • Areas with limited or controlled interaction with non-target species

    • Time of year may be important when considering location (non-breeding season for seabirds)

  • Within-site set Location

    • Find areas with flat spaces to set traps, natural clearings work well (for baited)

    • Trail convergences, narrow choke points on ridgelines, etc for blind –set traps

    • Aim for the most narrow corridor/route for blind-set

    • Use multiple traps in a single area if there are multiple potential trails (blind and baited, both) (Photo 7)

  • Areas to Avoid

    • Avoid multi-use trails with easy public access, or areas that are difficult for crew to traverse, such as steep slopes or slippery hillsides

    • Avoid any areas with potential for wash-out from a stream flooding or drainage, as debris can clog a trap pan and prevent it from firing

Click to See Full Sized Images

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3. Bait requires refreshing more often in wetter seasons

Bait and Lure Setting

  • Lure Placement in Traps

    • ​Single-door: lures should be in the back of the trap, positioned and protected so the only clear access to the lure is through the trap door

    • Double door: Lures should not be placed within thetrap itself, but can be placed in a clearing or opening in the trail. Then, utilize traps to close off all access to the lure station to trap curious onlookers

  • Bait Considerations

    • Bait should be contained in a vessel (bait cup or something similar) and located in the back of the trap, behind the pan

    • Should be appealing to cats, both in taste and aroma

    • Both structure and smell of bait needs to last multiple days in the elements without becoming horribly moldy or unappealing (Photo 3)

    • Add diversity in baits used – rotate through different options and be creative

Click to See Full Sized Images

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3. A “Scent Egg” containing “Cat Passion” lure in the back of a trap. 

How to Set

  • Prepare the Set Location

    • Find game trail or corridor and clear the ground of brush, sticks, and debris

    • If needed, level the ground where the trap will sit

  • Set the trap

    • Set the trap on a flat, stable surface. Test for wobbliness by pressing on the floor of the trap - a wobbly trap may scare away cats

    • Cover the back of the trap with a shingle or cover to protect bait and captured animals from the rain. (Shingle placed in middle of the trap for blind sets)

    • For double-doors on a slight incline, set so the pan is angled down-hill, so debris does not collect under the pan

    • Cover the entire floor of the trap with dirt and leaf debris – reduce the chances of a cat being deterred by the feeling of wires under its paws (Photo 5 & 6)

  • Stepping Sticks

    • Add stepping sticks to all traps to force the animal to step on the pan and fire the trap. Without stepping sticks, animals will step over the pan and pass through or take bait without firing the trap

    • Sticks should be small, pinky-finger width or smaller

    • Position sticks on the door-side of the pan, aprox. 3-4” in front of the pan and 2-3” off the bottom of the pan (Photo 5)

  • Camouflage

    • Traps can be covered partially or fully with leaves, sticks and ferns to provide cover and concealment or be left uncovered in the open Variation between stations is key

    •  Blind sets: Bring in brush and sticks around the trap, blocking off the trail so the trap appears to be the most passible point of the trail

    • Traps can be disguised as seabird burrows in the non-breeding season – be creative! (Photo 4)

  • Final Setting

    • Add bait and/or lure in the back of the trap behind the pan (for single doors)

    • Lift the trap door(s), pull the trigger loop forward and lower the door until it is resting just on the trigger hook

Click to See Full Sized Images

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4. A constructed burrow trap set, with feathers for lure

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5. Proper use of stepping sticks and floor covering

Check Traps

  • Visual Inspection 

    • Look over the entire trap set-up and observe the trap status and site surrounding the trap for evidence of animal presence

    • Trap Status: Is the trap open or closed when you arrive?

  • Test-Firing

    • Note the pressure required to fire the trap and adjust the pan and trigger as needed

    • A properly set trap will fire with light pressure on the pan and the trap will not wobble while pressure is being applied. Additionally the pan will drop flush with the floor of the trap and the door will drop quickly.

    • Test fire trap traps often, about once per week for blind-set traps

  • Trap Movement

    • Periodically move the trap within a station area (10-20ft radius) to create novelty

    • Even rotating a trap 90 degrees can create a different set 

  • Re-Setting

    • Be sure no debris has collected under the pan, and lightly latch the hook under the door

    • Add any additional camouflage or floor-covering that has worn away or degraded

    • Remove old bait from the site and put out fresh bait, if the trap is baited  

    • Refresh lures as needed

    • Replace broken stepping sticks

Click to See Full Sized Images

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6. An open and baited trap Trap

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7. Utilizing trails along fence lines, setting blind-set traps on both sides of the fence


  • Brands: (the term Tomahawk is itself a brand name)

    • Tomahawk Live Trap- Original Series Collapsible

    • Haveahart Live Traps

    • Comstock Live Traps

  • Sizes

    • 32” Single Door (Tomahawk Brand Model 207)

    • 36” Double Door (Tomahawk Brand Model 207.3)

    • 36” Single Door (Tomahawk Brand Model 207.5)

  • Vendors and Suppliers

    • Wildlife Control Supplies

    • Tomahawk Live Trap

Miscellaneous Details

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  • For easier access with large single-door trap traps, an access panel can be cut in the back of the trap by removing a 4”x4” square of the trap roof.

    • Using a crimping tool and j-clips, attach a sturdy, non-bendable piece of cage on one side of the opening. Old traps can be cut up and re-used as these access panels. (Photo 8)

    • Attach a s-hook or secure clip to the opposite side of the panel to allow it to lock. Be sure that no animals can escape through the panel.

  • Prop Bars are useful when traps will be left unattended for extended periods of time – they are used to ‘lock open’ trap doors so that cats may investigate a trap when trap-lines are not active. Prop bars can be made or purchased online

  • Some traps should be left un-camouflaged in the open to allow cats to fully investigate before entering (Photo 9)

  • For especially narrow trails with blind-set traps, wooden steps can be constructed over the trap so that personnel can easily step onto a trap without degrading the trail or damaging the trap

Click to See Full Sized Images

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8. Repurpose broken traps to make access panels on large single-door trap traps

Click to See Full Sized Images

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9. Cat investigating an un-camouflaged trap before entering

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