How to live in balance with your local coyote population? Here’s some of my thinking and learning thus far.
Of course the first temptation is to shoot at them, there is a very alluring promise of an immediate sense of “justice” and relief of seeing that thief dead! Removing certain animals from the population is a valid part of predator management. But, only a part. It turns out that historical data tells us that killing coyotes is the least effective means of predator control. The reasons are many. For one, coyotes have a very high mortality rate all on their own. So, the ones you kill will likely have died soon anyway.
Also, as you reduce a local population, the remaining members experience an increased food supply, which viola, results in more pups being born and thriving. If you do manage to temporarily take out your entire local population, this just creates room for the population next door to send new members your way. All animal species live in a constant equilibrium- they spread out equally in unfilled niches. So, there is just no mathematical possibility of ever getting rid of coyotes entirely, if you live in a coyote habitat. And that’s not to mention that eradicating a species is not an ethically sound wildlife management practice either! So, that leaves trying to manage the population you have.
The first and most obvious strategy is embellishing physical barriers. So we’ll be working on that, as time and money affords. More woven wire fencing, hot-wire, secure gates, and increased lighting should help a lot in our long term strategy. But, it’ll take a while to fortress the entire fourteen acres, so we still need more help for the near-term.
Guardian animals are step two. We already had the llama, but on her own, she was not effective enough (though llamas have shown a lot of promise in studies, and for other people I know-so they are worth a try!). The addition of the Livestock Guardian Dog is working well for our sheep, but that’s only one pasture of several, and we don’t have fencing on the rest yet to consider adding another dog.
Step three is putting livestock in more protective housing at night, when predators are the most active. I believe that pre-flood, this was very effective for us with our poultry. Coyotes didn’t seem to enter our yard during the day, and at night, our birds were secure. We don’t have a barn for our sheep yet, and indeed the losses we did have all occurred during the night. But now, post-flood, twice we’ve seen coyotes scoping out the sheep in the pasture midday (though now the LGD and extra work on securing our gate openings seems to be deterring them from entering). So, the nighttime theory must only apply when the coyotes aren’t getting desperate and hungry for food, increasing their need to hunt ’round the clock.
The most interesting thing I’ve learned is that modern predator management strategies leverage the idea of training your local predators just as you would train your dog. And, that actually makes a lot of sense. Wild animals, after all, are probably even more trainable than old Rover- wild animals must apply learning every day for survival, so intelligence and mental agility are selected-for in the wild population (whereas, Rover will get his dinner and may even reproduce regardless of his ability and/or willingness to apply learning!). I’ve heard and read that in Alaska, where badly behaving bears are a constant challenge, wildlife managers have had the most success with using aversives to teach the bears what not to do. These bears, once trained to be good citizens, keep other bears from moving into the territory, pass their training on to their young, and create a new equilibrium that works for everybody.
So, how do you train a predator? Well, there are lots of ways. Anything that can serve as an aversive, but is not physically harmful, can qualify: rubber bullets, irritating or frightening noises like air horns, offensive (to the predator) tastes or smells, frightening lights- whatever works. And obviously that could be different depending on the animal you’re trying to train, so creativity is key. “Bear trainers” in Alaska then take the additional step of pairing the aversive consequence with an association to someone yelling “Bad bear! Bad bear!” Then, just yelling the phrase will usually convince the bear that rubber bullets might be coming, so he’d better get a move on. This has apparently been fairly empowering to some residents, who might otherwise be trapped in their houses in fear of a bear outside rummaging through the garbage can!
So, this is another thing we’ve been trying to employ, teaching the local coyotes to be afraid of us, and our yard. But that is turning out to be easier said than done. A particular female who seems to be showing up a lot is not very afraid of us (I’ve seen her squat to urinate, so I’m pretty sure she is a she!). We’ve been trying to chase her and scare her with big hand waving, loud growing voices, rock throwing, and lengthy pursuit. But, she has figured out that we eventually stop chasing her, and she comes right back afterward. So, she has become either very desperate, very acclimated to humans, or both. We currently lack more sophisticated training devices that wildlife managers may have, like rubber bullets or stinky chemical collars to put on the necks of all our animals. And in the meantime, she is getting reinforced with successful duck meals often enough to keep her returning for more, while our losses mount!
So, for this particular girl, removal may be the right option. Reduced flight zone and low fear of humans can be a trait inherited or learned from a dam, so there is concern that if this girl has a litter, we’ll have a whole set of yard hangers-around by the end of the summer. So, that is the current plan, is to try to shoot this one individual, and then continue on with complimentray efforts to mange the others in the population. Trying to live in balance with them seems to be the key, and I hope we can find that balance soon!! I am weary of missing ducks and financial loss, the ducks are weary of being locked up, and I’d like to get more sleep!