Ecology And Environment

Where have all the Coyotes gone

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"Where have all the Coyotes gone"
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For years, my neighbors would sing almost every night. Sometimes it would be just one of them, howling alone and lonely in the desert; most often it would be a party, yipping up a high-pitched storm when one of them brought home the bacon. When I first heard them, it scared me a little, but once I got to know them better, I realized they were nice people and meant me no harm. After a few months, the sound of their singing became sweet music to my ears and I'd awaken with pleasure to hear them, then drift calmly back to sleep.

I'm talking, of course, about the coyote, a small wolf that ranges far and wide throughout the Southwestern desert, and on up into Canada and south into Central America. Or, at least, it did. Sometime in January or February, depending on whom you ask, the song of Coyote has been heard no more in southern Luna County, New Mexico.

Now, it could simply be that mating season starts in that time frame, and now the pups have been born and are growing up in the den; which would mean that, in a few more weeks, the families will be out hunting, and the music will be heard once more. But that's not necessarily the case. People who have been here far longer than my 3 years are noticing, and have other ideas.

One says her husband, who spends some time in Internet chatrooms, says ranchers have been putting out food with some type of sterilization drug in it, for the purpose of eradicating the coyote. The US Government's Wildlife Services certainly continues to use sodium cyanide devices, one of which is called an M-44, to kill coyotes; but some ranchers would rather avoid poisons to prevent their own dogs from being killed.

Humans followed the same pattern with the Grey Wolf and its smaller cousin the Mexican Wolf, reducing their population to where they are now an endangered species. Reintroduction of wolves into some areas has proven successful in increasing biodiversity, partially due to the larger wolves keeping the smaller coyotes under control, which gives other smaller species a better chance at survival. But humans, particularly ranchers, continue to fear for their chickens, sheep, goats, and to a lesser extent their pets, and will be proponents of killing off predatory animals unless a solution presents itself which is more appealing to them.

The immediate effect of a drastic reduction in coyote populations would be, as is in evidence here, an increase in that of the rodents. Mice, rats, and rabbits are overrunning this part of the desert, where ordinarily they would be kept in control by coyotes. I can hardly sleep inside my underground house lately due to the constant noise of these small rodents. And though there is some danger to livestock, it is significantly less than that of wolves. The largest coyotes are about 50 pounds; 20 pounds is far more typical. Even a large pack will not attempt an attack on healthy adult cattle. Smaller sheep and poultry are subject to losses from coyotes, but a combination of dogs and good fencing should certainly have a mitigating effect; alternatives to waging war with the coyote could be found in any case. Humans are the only species systematically violating what author Daniel Quinn refers to as the Law of Limited Competition: "You may compete to the full extent of your capabilities, but you may not hunt down your competitors or destroy their food or deny them access to food." Attempting to kill off any species that is encroaching on what we consider "our" property is arguably endangering our own existence. It is related to the fallacy of trying to eliminate war; what will happen to a generation that knows nothing about war when they are attacked? A perfectly peaceful existence may well be the sunset of our species.

Of course, it is unknown what the long-range effect of killing off the last of the 4-legged carnivores would be. But I for one do not want to find out. I miss my neighbors and their sweet song; I hope to be hearing it again in a month or two.

More about this author: John Comeau

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