Coyotes are wild “song dogs” known for their beautiful howls and their importance to diverse wild lands. Like dogs, their gentle, affectionate nature and the role they play in their habitat is fascinating. Yet, like wolves, they are slaughtered en masse because of mistaken cultural myths and legal loopholes. From a love of outdoors, time spent working in a national park, and my own experience living in the country amongst coyotes, I know them to be incredibly playful awe-inspiring wild animals with a profound intelligence and sense of family. That’s why I’m proud of the work the Animal Legal Defense Fund does to help protect coyotes and other native predators.
These song dogs (their official name is canis latrans, or “talking dog”) are pack animals, like wolves, domestic dogs, and humans. Coyotes mate for life and live in family structures with a dominant mom and dad and extended family. They create elaborate dens within circular territories so they can better protect their pups. Coyotes are small, weighing between 35-45lbs, depending upon geography and season. Contrary to popular myth which demonizes them, coyotes are very shy animals—and they are a “keystone species” which means their presence impacts the entire ecosystem they belong to. Remove these animals in savage, haphazard ways and everyone suffers.
Yet coyotes can be killed without limitation in California and Oregon and nearly every other state. In fact, in the Pacific Northwest, coyotes are treated like garbage by the courts, which considers them “vermin.” There are little to no bag limits, no seasons, and, thanks to the abuse of legal loopholes, groups find ways to hold blood bath “killing contests” with large cash prizes to see who can kill the most of this beloved but maligned song dog. Working with Project Coyote, ALDF recently shut down an Oregon coyote killing contest and is in support of a proposed ban that would end predator killing contests in California permanently. Right now, you can help protect coyotes in Idaho from a killing contest bloodbath by leaving a public comment with the Bureau of Land Management.
Whether for their fundamental beauty, their cultural heritage as “trickster” in native communities, their dog-like, wolf-like complex family and social relationships, their intelligence, their playfulness, their importance to wild habitats, or for the simple fact that killing contests are dangerous and barbaric, the fact that these contests continue across our country every year is shocking.
But that’s not all humans do to coyotes. ALDF has long fought coyote and fox “penning” facilities. Penning is the practice of capturing wild animals to use as bait to train dogs to kill on hunts. Coyotes and foxes are trapped in leghold traps or snares, sold to penning facilities, where they are released into a small pen by hunting dogs who tear them to pieces for practice. Penning is legal in nearly 20 states.
Coyotes are persecuted on an even more regular basis too. ALDF, along with a strong coalition of conservation groups, is working hard to challenge the federal agency known as “Wildlife Services” and its war on native wildlife. Wildlife Services has become essentially a taxpayer-funded killing agency, recklessly killing coyotes and other animals on public lands at the behest of private ranchers. And that’s where much of the negative, inaccurate lore about coyotes comes from: the introduction of ranching.
Wildlife Services, much like killing contests, traps and kills coyotes haphazardly. The government agency kills millions of animals each year, spending more than $100 million to do so—killing tens of thousands of “non-target” animals and endangered species as well. In the past 14 years, they’ve killed more than a million coyotes. Their standard methods are inhumane and ineffective—despite the holocaust of coyote slaughter by this agency, and the suffering they’ve caused to sentient beings, the coyote population has tripled. Any wildlife agency worth its salt knows that killing coyotes leads to increased procreation. When left alone, coyotes regulate their own populations and help keep our wild places in working order. ALDF’s coalition and campaign shows ranchers that nonlethal predator control, and coexistence with native wildlife, is best for everyone. Marin County, California, for example, replaced Wildlife Services with nonlethal predator control and coyote predation was actually reduced by more than 60%.
Wildlife Services has also been in the news because multiple employees have been caught torturing trapped coyotes. And that brings us to another part of the coyote’s sad saga. Coyotes, as shy, small, playful wild dogs, are vulnerable to the depraved minds that enjoy torturing beings who can’t protect themselves. Just last week, ALDF, along with the Animal Rescue Team, offered a cash reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator who tied and likely tortured a 6lb female coyote pup.
The way some humans treat animals often breaks our hearts—and our laws. The way some treat apex predators like our wild song dogs—coyotes and wolves–is also a pox on our cultural history and our inability to coexist with wildlife. But it’s something we can remedy with better understanding and better animal protection laws.