At APFA, we love our dogs. We love their soulful eyes, their goofy play bows, and those expressive eyebrows. As a natural extension of that love and respect, we also love our dog’s wild counterparts; their canid cousins: coyotes.So why do coyotes have such a bad rap? And are culls and bounties as ineffective as they are cruel?
The first time I saw a coyote up close, I was shocked at how small they were. Since then I have learned that they typically weigh between 15 to 35 pounds, their fluffy, protective fur often making them appear larger from a distance. Up close, it is hard to rank their most beautiful qualities. Their graceful lope communicates a kind of liberty we just don’t see in domestic dogs. Their yellow eyes communicate a kind of independence we just don’t see in our dogs. They are survivors, adapting to ever-changing landscapes in every province across the country. They are playful canids, who are known for being extremely deep sleepers (hunters share stories about sneaking up on snoozing coyotes). They are also known for their devoted parenting, with male coyotes playing as active a role in rearing as females. They practice monogamy (with a more impressive success rate than us!), and some alpha males have even been known to leave their packs and live solitary lives after the death of their mate.
Despite being incredible animals, coyotes are the most misunderstood wild animal in Canada. They are routinely the victim of public misinformation, media sensationalism, and old-fashioned ignorance. It is for this reason that much of our time is spent advocating for them in both urban and rural environments. Apart from their inherent right to live a life free from human interference, coyotes also perform important ecosystem functions. They are ‘nature’s clean up crew’, keeping small mammal populations in check(including rabbits, squirrels, mice), eating deadstock, roadkill, and even eat human garbage.
So why are communities killing coyotes?
In urban environments, the problem stems from human provided food sources. When a food source presents itself, it is anattractant to various wild animals, including coyotes. This in turn draws them deeper into residential areas, increasing their proximity tolerance, and therefore the likelihood of close encounters. Whileconﬂict with humans is incredibly rare, acclimatized coyotes can clash with companion animals, who, if small, can beindistinguishable from their natural prey, or, if larger, can beviewed as competitors for food. Sadly, this often results in ‘nuisance’ coyotes being hunted or trapped, and if enough public fear is generated, it can even lead to culls or bounties of thousands of coyotes.
Do these culls or bounties ‘work’?
If by ‘work’, you mean kill lots of coyotes, and destroy countless coyote families, then yes, they ‘work’. But if what you actually want to know is whether culling/bounties are an effective way to curb coyote ‘problems’, the answer is a big, whopping NO. Here’s why:
- Targeting them lethally can make their population grow:Studies going as far back as 1975 show that targeted coyote populations “may exhibit compensatory reproduction by breeding at an earlier age, having larger litters, and experiencing increased survival rates among young.” Since then, scientists have shown in study after study, that “it isn’t so simple as to kill coyotes and reduce their populations”. Dr. Paul Paquet, world expert on wild canids and Adjunct Professor at the University of Calgary, explains that “[c] oyotes usually have an orderly social structure, with the dominant pair of a group breeding once a year. If left alone, family groups and populations are stable, with 1styear pup mortality at 50%-70%. If we kill pack members, other members can begin breeding more often, and with more food now available for pup survival, the result is more coyotes. Over the years, we’ve been acting in opposition to our best interests because we didn’t consider how biologically and behaviourally adaptable coyotes are.”
- Transient Coyotes may move in:Stan Gehrt, famed Ohio State University coyote ecologist, noted in a 2004 paper that removing coyotes from a particular home range can quickly result in the space being filled by transient coyotes. If the root cause of the problem is not addressed (human-provided food sources), these new coyotes may develop the very same behaviours.
- You’d have to kill a significant amount of them each year to even begin to shift populations:Again, evidence as far back as the 1970s shows us that coyote populations can withstand considerable extermination efforts (trapping, hunting, poisoning, etc.) One study in 1983 found that “inflicting less than 50% annual mortality could not be expected to produce declining populations using any combination of litter size and percent breeding”.
Culls are not just cruel to the animals who are killed, but also to the young coyotes left behind, who are prevented from learning the critical life skills necessary to survive (foraging for wild foods, and avoiding humans). Canid ethologist, Dr. Marc Bekoff explains that
“[k]illing does not and never has worked. Community education and a willingness to coexist are the keys to eliminating human-coyote conflicts, and it’s surprisingly easy.”
One needn’t look far for evidence that culling simply doesn’t work. A recent exampleI happened across last week involved wolves in Wisconsin. It showed that “[t]he 2013 Wisconsin wolf count indicates there are a minimum of 809 to 834 wolves in the state, including 215 packs and 15 lone wolves, according to Department of Natural Resources officials. The count compares to the 2012 estimate that ranged from 815 to 880 wolves, including 213 packs and 20 lone wolves.”
Just like we wouldn’t relegate domestic dogs to such a cruel fate, their wild cousins deserve the same consideration. Speak out against culls and bounties in your municipality, and let us know if we can help. Coexistence is not only the humane approach, it’s the only one that works!