The Comeback Coyote
January 12, 2012
The Comeback Coyote
by Ken Gartner – Grenfell, Saskatchewan
published in The Canadian Trapper magazine 

It’s November and I am in my fur shop skinning coyotes. It is -17°C, with a wind chill factor of -22. The wind and falling snow are designing small finger drifts in my back yard. I open the door and look out occasionally and smile. My trapping season has arrived!

I am a trapper. I don’t have a registered trapline like a number of fortunate individuals in this province, but I still consider myself a trapper in every sense of the word. My main focus is on furbearers of the canine family, mostly coyotes and fox. I am a predation specialist, a trapper, called out to remove problem predators when they become a nuisance and begin killing livestock.

I live in the southeast corner of Saskatchewan. The landscape is dotted with sheep and cattle farms and a plentiful mixture of cropland, bush and pasture land. With sheep and cattle production, there is a constant and abundant food source located within the type of terrain coyotes and other predators like to call home. I think of it as a “goldmine” without the glitter!

Trapping and preparing furs for market provides me with a lot of enjoyment and peace and tranquility in the great outdoors. I have seen and witnessed things in nature that many urbanites never see or experience. Aside from all the beauty in nature, trapping and being a field also provides me with a lot of time to contemplate things. Tonight as I was skinning was no exception. I began thinking about how my passion for trapping was rekindled and why I returned to doing something I hadn’t done since I was in my early teens.

I returned to trapping after retiring from 26 years of work in law enforcement. As I skinned my coyote I smiled, thinking of the parallel between all the two-legged “bad guys” I pursued, caught and brought to justice during those 26 years and how I am now spending my time pursuing “four-legged” ones disguised as coyotes, foxes and other predators. I guess some things really don’t change all that much! Tonight, I’m working on coyote number 28. It’s a large prime male. I ponder the good luck I’ve had in the past six days of snaring – with 34 coyotes being caught and 11 of those snared in the first 24 hours in only a small bluff of trees. It seems the coyote population has rebounded in a very short time, at least in this particular area. All of the producers and hunters I have spoken to recently echo the same opinion.

November 2009 to March 31, 2010 wasn’t that long ago. The Saskatchewan Party government spent $1.5 million on a five month coyote control program that apparently saw 71,000 coyotes killed. Upon closure of the program, Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud stated, “There was a need to take action to control the coyote population and I’m pleased with the uptake of this program.” He further stated, “I hope this program has helped to reduce both the predation issues facing livestock producers and the potential danger posed to farm and ranch families.”

It’s interesting to note that for that same period, according to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment and their corresponding 2009-2010 Wild Fur Harvest and Cash Values summary report, a total of only 14,207 coyote pelts were marketed. This figure, however, may not reflect the total inventory of all coyote pelts received, as there may have been some fur dealers and Ministry of Environment field offices that did not file reports or provide the raw data that formed the basis of this report.

One positive aspect of the coyote bounty occurring during the peak-trapping season is that there was an opportunity for hunters and trappers to reap the rewards of both the bounty money and profit from the income received from the furs that were processed and shipped to market. Unfortunately, records confirm not many of those pelts made it to the fur markets as was earlier anticipated. I’m not going to debate the logic or the results of this coyote bounty program. In my opinion, the coyote population is well on its way to returning to what it was prior to the bounty being instituted. I am certain a lot of trappers would also agree with this conclusion – not to mention a large number of sheep, cattle and other livestock producers who have lost livestock and income this past calving and lambing season due largely to the coyote.

Aside from the methods man and government use to regulate wildlife populations, Mother Nature has her way of decreasing or increasing populations in wildlife. Coyotes probably excel at re-populating quicker than most other species. Certainly a huge reason for this is due to the coyote’s nature and ability to adapt to changes in food sources and human pressures placed on them.
Coyotes simply produce larger litters, which, by the way, other than killing, is one of the things coyotes do best. Litter size is based on the availability of natural and domestic food sources and the present demand or lack thereof for that particular food source.

During this year’s coyote denning season, I observed and watched several pairs of coyotes in my area with litters averaging between 8-9 coyote pups, up from the 5-7 averages in previous years. This is further evidenced and verified by the number of young coyotes I have been catching and continue to catch since snow has hit the ground. I realize some of those higher pup or juvenile coyote numbers are due to what I call “coyote drift” which occurs during October when the pups are being dispersed and driven away from their family unit to find their own territories. You won’t find me complaining, as their furs are looking pretty good.
On the opposite side of the coin is what occurs in nature when there is an over population of a species such as coyotes. One of the ways Mother Nature responds to over population in the canine family, as in most species, is with a disease associated to that species. It usually involves a long and painful death that is not a good or humane way for any animal to die. When a coyote gets mange and it develops into the advanced stages, it usually dies with help from our long cold winters.

There are many diseases that infect canids but the most common one is mange. There are four different types of mange. They are sarcoptic mange, demodectic mange, cheyletiellosis, and ear mites.

(Photo by Ken Gartner of Grenfell Saskatchewan) Overpopulated coyotes are more
susceptible to disease and parasites including sarcoptic mange.

The two types of mange affecting us most as trappers interested in the marketing of furs are demodectic mange and sarcoptic mange. While there are similarities in the two types, there are also some strong differences.

Demodectic mange is the most common type. Demodectic mange is not contagious to humans. This type of mange usually starts on the animal’s face and legs, causing hair loss to those areas. This type of mange can be localized in one or two spots or can be all over the animal’s body.

A parasitic mite called Sarcoptes Scabiel causes sarcoptic mange. This form of mange can be passed between canids and humans through contact with an infected animal. Unlike the demodex canis mite which causes demodectic mange and lives in the hair follicle, the sarcoptes scabiel mite lives in the upper layer of skin. The mites are microscopic and cannot be seen with the naked eye. This mite goes through a molting stage after hatching from the egg and the adults can live 3-4 weeks on the animal’s skin.

The action of the mites moving about in the skin, burrowing and laying of eggs and hatching produces an intense itch. This type of mange is spread mainly by skin-to-skin contact.

There is a strong correlation between a high canid or coyote population and the frequency of mange, most likely due to the manner in which it spreads. This type of mange seems to start on the animal’s tail and legs, and in severe cases covers the entire body. In those severe cases the animal’s skin appears blackish and oily in appearance with scab formation and hair loss. Animals infected become weaker, listless and therefore often become bolder and fearless of people. Infected canids will often resort to scavenging.

For our own protection, trappers are encouraged to wear rubber gloves and protective clothing when handling wildlife with skin conditions, as sarcoptic mange can be very contagious to humans.

Good luck with your trapping endeavors this winter and be safe when handling all species of animals while you prepare the bounty of furs they provide. If the fur market forecasts are accurate, coyotes and fox fur prices will be at a respectable level, and with the coyote numbers coming back, it should be a great trapping season and a reason to celebrate.

In the meantime, I must get back to my fur shed and pelt preparation. I’m considering another beautiful coyote pelt to enter in the Saskatchewan Trappers Association coyote pelt handling competition in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, on February 17 and 18, 2012. Perhaps I’ll see you there. Don’t forget to bring your coyote pelts!