Cash-prize coyote hunt no danger to animal population, biologist says

01/10/2015 04:33 EST | Updated 03/12/2015 05:59 EDT
A controversial tournament in Alberta offering a cash prize to the team of hunters that can kill the most coyotes in one day poses no risk to the animal population, says a wildlife expert.

“This is a tempest in a teapot, from a biological perspective,” said Lee Foote, a conservation biologist at the University of Alberta.

“Coyote populations will be relatively unaffected.”

The tournament’s organizer, who has held similar events in the past, told CBC News that he has received death threats and harassment from critics of the hunt.

In Alberta, it is legal to shoot coyotes, which are considered pests by many farmers, if they are on private land with the landowner’s permission.

The head of conservation group Coyote Watch Canada says the cash prize is “reckless” and glorifies killing.

However, Foote said the hunt will have little impact on the health of the coyote population in Alberta. There are one to five coyotes for every square kilometre around Edmonton, he said. While the animals are killed by landowners and hunted for fur in the province, the vast majority of coyote deaths are from other causes.

“The way most coyotes die is under the bumper of a car or by disease transmission,” Foote said.

Coyotes are one of the few animal populations in Alberta that are self-regulated through disease, he said. When the population is high, like this year, disease spread more easily among the packs, which brings the number back down.

He estimates around 30 per cent of the province’s population is showing signs of illnesses, like scabies.

“A quick bullet death is a very different death than a lingering disease death,”  he said.

“This is such a tiny little portion of the entire ecological and layout of coyotes in Alberta that maybe this amount of attention is not warranted.”

Competitive hunts illegal in other places

Despite the outcry, the tournament still proceeded Saturday. An advertisement for the hunt offered side contests for heaviest coyote, lightest coyote and mangiest coyote.

Similar contests are illegal in other parts of North America: California has banned all competitive hunting contests.

The head of wildlife management for the province said the hunt has started an important discussion among Albertans.

“You almost need the clash and controversy before you get the clarity on the issue,” said Matt Besko, wildlife manager at Alberta Sustainable Resources and Development.

He said official numbers show 20,000 to 30,000 coyotes trapped in Alberta each year, with real numbers likely to be much higher.

He said Saturday’s hunt won’t make a dent in those numbers, and likened it to other competitive activities like fishing derbies.  

But he said the discussion around the event was a good thing.

“It’s up to the public to decide if [competitive hunts] should be illegal,” he said.

“People are starting to think and speak about how humans live and view the world around them … government has to pay attention to that.”