Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Why killing coyotes doesn't work

Here in Texas there are a few wild animals roaming the countryside. I know that television shows claim there are about 2,000,000 feral pigs running around. A feral animal is a once-domesticated animal that has "gone wild". Feral dogs are also a problem, as are feral cats. But ranchers and farmers are more likely to complain about the pigs and the coyotes than anything else.

A guy I work with hunts quite a bit. He grew up hunting and just this morning regaled me and another co-worker with tales about how he and his friends used to hunt rabbits on stretches of land around west Houston which are now covered by office buildings, strip malls, and other construction. I've seen development encroach upon countryside in one or two places but I only came to Houston a few years ago, so my area is pretty built up and has been for years.

Nonetheless, one of Jimmy's friends sent him an email with a couple of attachments (I didn't think to ask if I could use them -- sorry). They show a coyote sniffing around a tree late at night. Jimmy's friend is missing some cats, as are the friend's neighbors. It's pretty clear that the cats have been feeding the coyotes, giving their all for the coyote team. The friend hired a trapper to lay a foot-trap for the coyote, or has at least been thinking about doing that. I didn't quite catch all the details.

But Jimmy called his friend and advised him not to do that. It turns out that Jimmy recently went on a hunting trip with a biologist who specializes in field research on carnivorous wildlife. The biologist knows quite a bit about coyotes. It seems they do run in packs like many dog- and wolf-like critters, and each pack is dominated by one breeding pair of coyotes: the Alpha Male and the Alpha Female.

Among coyotes, the females do most of the hunting. If you lay a trap and kill a coyote late at night, there is about a 75% chance you'll kill a female. The problem for people with coyote issues is that if you kill an Alpha Female, every other female in the pack immediately goes into heat when she fails to return home. That is, while there is an active Alpha Female, the other females don't breed. When you remove the Alpha Female, the other females breed until one becomes dominant.

If there are 4-5 remaining females, you just inspired them to multiply your coyote problem four-fold by killing their Alpha Female.

I can't offer a soluton to coyote problems, but obviously if you're having issues with one pack, you don't want them to experience a sudden population explosion or you'll end up having issues with several packs. So the indiscriminant killing of coyotes probably explains why they have survived mankind's encroachments better than other forms of wildlife. They fight back by making tons of little coyotes and those hungry little coyotes go out and eat whatever they can find.

Including your house cats.


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