by Kevin Bixby
We live in coyote country. We built our homes in their habitat. Given how adaptable coyotes are, it’s not surprising that they now live among us. Consider them the price of admission for living in the desert.
For some of us, they are not just the ticket but a big part of the show as well. Who doesn’t enjoy the sound of their maniacal yips and howls on a moonlit night?
But coyotes do more than entertain us--they play an important role in maintaining natural ecosystems.
Coyotes are intelligent, opportunistic predators. They consume prodigious quantities of small mammals, including rodents that carry human diseases such as Hantavirus and plague. They also eat fruits (including juniper berries), vegetables, insects, birds, eggs, and carrion--which helps to keep ecosystems healthy.
Most of the time there is no reason to worry about coyotes. Although naturally curious, coyotes are normally timid and run away if confronted. The trouble starts when coyotes begin to view our neighborhoods as places where they can reliably find the things they need: food, water and shelter.
Fortunately, there are measures people can take to protect their pets and make sure coyotes keep their distance. The first step is to get rid of things that attract coyotes. It goes without saying that you should never feed coyotes. Like all wild animals, coyotes that learn to associate food with humans may become aggressive and demanding. Nor should you leave out food or water for pets.
Don’t put up large birdfeeders either—the seeds attract rodents. Make sure not to leave out garbage, compost, or anything else that coyotes might consider edible. Remove brush piles that could shelter small animals. Repair holes in fences. You might also want to check out a product called the “coyote roller” that claims to prevent coyotes from jumping over fences.
Keep your dog indoor at night, and always supervise your dog when it’s outside, especially at dawn and dusk. (The only way to keep a cat safe is to keep it indoors all the time.) If you have to leave your dog outside, make sure it’s in a fully enclosed kennel. Don’t allow your dog to play or interact with coyotes.
If coyotes approach too close you can use a variety of hazing techniques to scare them away, such as shaking a soda can full of coins, blowing a whistle, shouting, clapping or waving your hands. Some experts even recommend popping an umbrella—coyotes apparently don’t like surprises.
Although occasional attacks by coyotes on pets are to be expected, there might be something else behind the recent spate of coyote incidents in Sonoma Ranch.
Wildlife-killing contests are organized events in which participants compete for prizes to see who can kill the most animals. There have been at least two such contests in the Las Cruces area in the past month targeted at coyotes. These events have the potential to disrupt coyote populations in ways that can lead to more conflicts with humans.
Coyotes are territorial. Family groups defend their territory against other coyotes. Research shows that the indiscriminate removal of coyotes from the population, as occurs in coyote killing contests, has no long term impact on coyote numbers, but can lead to increased predation on pets and livestock in a number of ways.
First, more pups survive because there is temporarily more food to go around for the coyotes that are not killed. With more mouths to feed, but fewer members of the pack to help provision them, coyotes are more likely to venture nearer human settlements and go after larger and more vulnerable prey items, such as pets and livestock.
Secondly, removing resident territory holders allows younger, transient coyotes to move in. Not only does this eventually result in a population rebound, since younger animals have more pups, but it also leads to more conflicts since younger, naive coyotes are more likely to seek “novel” prey items.
I don’t know for sure that the recent coyote-killing contests had anything to do with the problems at Sonoma Ranch, but it is certainly possible—just one more reason to make these barbaric activities illegal.
Wildlife-killing contests serve no legitimate management purpose. They are little more than target practice with live animals conducted by people who like to kill things for fun. They are legal because nearly half of New Mexico’s wildlife species are not protected by law. It is time for New Mexico to recognize the value of all of its wildlife and make killing contests illegal.