TASER International, the creator and manufacturer of the TASER brand electronic control device, has just released the TASER X3W for use on wildlife. They claim it is a “… humane means of animal control for wildlife.” They go on to say “These devices have been proven effective for wildlife and are available today for wildlife managers, field biologists and zoo caretakers.”
TASERs are a class of devices called Electronic Control Devices (ECDs) AKA Conducted Energy Weapons (CEWs). They are designed to incapacitate people by delivering high voltage shocks to the body. TASERs can work at a distance of up to 35 feet by firing small darts that penetrate or come close to the skin and are connected to wires that pass the electricity. Another class of devices, referred to as stun guns, deliver the shocks through two probes on the device that are pressed against the body. TASER claims their device works by Neuromuscular Incapacitation (NMI) – that is, interruption of the normal neural control of muscles, making them contract uncontrollably thus incapacitating the person.
Other models of TASERs have been used on dogs, cattle, moose and bears and videos of these uses are dramatic. The usefulness of the device for wildlife was illustrated when Alaska wildlife officers found two moose calves physically trapped, but couldn’t get them out because of their threatening, protective mother. So the cow was hit with the TASER and incapacitated long enough to free the calves. Other examples of uses of the devices on wildlife include freeing a juvenile bull moose from a chicken feeder that was stuck on his head, and freeing a bull elk that was ensnared in barbed wire. Certainly, use of the devices in these situations seems warranted, assuming no other less harmful method could have been used.
So is the device necessary? Wildlife experts claim that using other methods such as nets and traps can be slow and not always effective, and immobilizing drugs are unreliable and sometimes fatal. In some situations, the only option to the TASER would be euthanizing the animal but in other cases other methods easily could be used.
To be fair, both TASER and the wildlife experts stress that the TASER is just one tool and should not used to the exclusion of other tools. The company claims the Wildlife TASER has solid evidence supporting its use effective use. But the evidence they present on their website is less than compelling.
It is disconcerting that some wildlife officers, with the assistance of TASER International, have tested the device not to immobilize an animal but as a punisher to stop unwanted behavior (foraging at the dump). This is a very different use of the device and it is not clear that it can be effective when used in this way.
Shock can trigger aggression in animals, and this would be a very dangerous effect with large wildlife. A video (see link below) demonstrates what happens when an ECD is used on a bull. He falls to the ground immobilized but when the electricity is turned off, jumps up and rams a fence behind which stands the videographer.
The information on Wildlife TASER’s website does not provide clear instructions or protocols as to what species, and under what circumstances the device should be used. This lack of clear direction about the use of the device leaves the door open for misuse.
The National Animal Control Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association have policy statements against using ECDs on small mammals such as cats, and we can assume that such high voltage devices shouldn’t be used on birds, small reptiles, amphibians and fish. They also do not recommend them for routine capture and restraint of any animal.
The risk is great that officers wanting a quick and easy method of capture or restraint may choose the Wildlife TASER over traps, or those requiring more skill such as nets or catch poles, or other methods that are safer and less stressful to the animal. Users should be trained that the criteria for use is NOT “convenience” but what is least harmful to the animal while keeping people safe as well.
The use of TASERs and other ECDs is not harmless to animals. The long list of warnings of potential injuries to people found on the TASER site will also apply to most animals. They also note that the physically infirm, pregnant and elderly may be particularly at risk for injuries. TASER International has vigorously argued that the electrical current delivered by the TASER has not been a cause of death in people, although some experts argue that it could be a contributing factor in the death of those with serious medical or mental conditions and/or those on illicit drugs.
Use of ECDs by trained law enforcement or wildlife officers is one thing, the use by untrained civilians is another. ECDs are legal to own and carry in most states and cities of the US and no training is required. You can find a list of exceptions on the TASER site. Many manufacturers actively market to civilians for personal protection. Misuse of these devices is dramatically increased in the hands of untrained and irresponsible people.
Our belief is that if the animals’ or peoples’ lives are in imminent danger, and no other options are viable, the use of ECDs may be justified. Others will likely have different opinions. With no clear protocols for their use and the wide availability to almost anyone, of more concern to us is the potential for abuse and misuse. The potential costs (injury or suffering to the animal) and benefits (reducing harm or death to people and animals) should always be carefully weighed when decided to use any device that can cause harm.
More detailed information, including research articles on the use of these devices, is available in our membership site, www.BehaviorEducationNetwork.com
Websites and Videos of Interest
TASER’s web page describing the Wildlife TASER with references to articles and research.
TASER’s claims of potential injury or death on their citizen warnings page
NACA Policy on the Use of Electro Muscular Disruption Device (EMDD) on Animals
Video – Bull apparently hit with ECD, falls, then jumps up and attacks