The following column is opinion and analysis of the writer.
One morning in the 1930s in Yellowstone National Park, biologist Adolph Murie watched a coyote joyously toss a sprig of sagebrush in the air with her mouth, adroitly catch it, and repeat the act every few yards. Murie was conducting a study to prove that coyotes were “the archpredator of our time.” But the biologist, whose work ultimately exonerated the animals, was more impressed by that sprig-tossing — proof of the joy a coyote took in being alive.
If we paid attention, we might share Adolph Murie’s fascination with this intelligent, playful creature. Instead, we kill roughly half a million of them annually in the United States. No other animal in American history has suffered the kind of deliberate, casual persecution we have rained down on coyotes.
When subjected to relentless persecution, compensatory reproductive mechanisms kick in. When alpha females die, beta females breed, which can increase the number and lower the average age of breeding females. More pups are born. Fractured packs break up and individuals colonize new areas. Younger, less experienced coyotes may be more prone to prey on domestic animals. Unexploited coyote populations establish more stable social structures and are more likely to respond positively to non-lethal predation deterrence strategies. The only real effect a half-century of coyote killing produced was coyote Manifest Destiny, as they spread out across North America.
Yet Arizona still allows wildlife killing contests, where “hunters” slaughter as many coyotes — and bobcats, foxes, cougars, and rabbits — as possible to win cash, a champion belt buckle, or a gun. These events, such as the “Santa Slay Coyote Tournament” in Dewey-Humboldt, occur statewide. After the killing is done, the animals are unceremoniously dumped.
There is something perverse in society marking a species for death, setting it outside the bounds of even our anti-cruelty laws.
No thoughtful human being should sacrifice for a prize or a bet an animal like the one Adolph Murie observed. Doing so is immoral — not in a religious sense, but in reference to morality’s origins, the evolution of a sense of fairness among members of a social species, which early on came to include a human recognition that other creatures enjoy being alive and that depriving them of life is a very serious matter.
On Friday, June 21, the AZGF Commission will vote on a rule that would ban contests for predatory and furbearing species. The commission is right to outlaw the events — but the proposed rule requires modest revisions to close loopholes that would allow circumvention of the ban.
The proposed rule would still allow contests so long as participants don’t officially “register and record entry” or “pay a fee.” Social media chatter indicates that participants believe they can easily evade the rule. A free-to-enter contest attracted over one hundred participants in April. The rule would also leave prairie dogs, rabbits and other nongame animals unprotected.
Citizens have expressed strong opposition to wildlife killing contests. Coconino County, Dewey-Humboldt, Flagstaff, Pima, Tucson, and Yavapai County have passed resolutions condemning the events. New Mexico, Vermont and California have enacted laws banning or restricting contests.
Killing an animal for mere pleasure or bet is scientifically and ethically indefensible. As long as urbanites supervise pets and ranchers use proven nonlethal measures, coyotes pose no overwhelming danger.
If the commission is sincere in its desire to end wildlife killing contests, we see no reason why they would not embrace a minor language change to close loopholes in the rule. We all want the same thing: an end to this bloodsport.