Coyotes are back in the news following the promotion of a controversial hunting contest by Powderhorn Outfitters, a gun shop in Hyannis.
Profiled last week in the Cape’s daily newspaper after it caused a stir on social media, the contest offers prizes for the largest coyote killed and for the cumulative weight of each hunter’s harvest through the hunting season, which ends on March 12.
The contest, which is promoted on the store’s Facebook page but not on its website, quickly drew the ire of wildlife advocates such as Eastham’s Louise Kane.
Kane was featured in a report in The Cape Codder last year, when she started a Change.org petition to ban carnivore hunting in the Cape Cod National Seashore; as of this week, it had 6,630 supporters.
On Jan. 28 she posted this comment on Powderhorn’s Facebook page: “Please friends that love animals go to Powderhorn Outfitters facebook page and give them a one star rating and object to the coyote killing contest. Please take a moment for Cape Cod coyotes.”
The same day Dr. Jonathan Way, founder of Eastern Coyote/Coywolf Research, and author of “Suburban Howls: Tracking the Eastern Coyote in Urban Massachusetts,” also had harsh words for the contest, writing in his blog: “Here is the first coyote hunting contest that I am aware of in MA, and here on Cape Cod, MA. This is outrageous. Spread the word about who really gets to ‘manage’ our wildlife. Of course, MA Wildlife and local town laws do nothing to prevent this ‘tragedy of the commons.’” With it came a link to Powderhorn’s facebook page.
Way and Kane are planning an information and protest event this Saturday in Hyannis. (See details below.)
Hunters, or supporters of hunters, had their say on the gun shop’s Facebook page, too. Several decried the “one-star rating” tactic as unfair and some had choice words for “the anti-hunting leftists.”
On the Cape, Way is a leading expert for all things coyote (see easterncoyoteresearch.com). In a local magazine article two years back, he estimated there were between 200 and 250 coyotes – or coywolves, as he identifies them as a species – living on the Cape.
He puts the coywolf DNA profile at roughly 60 percent western coyote, 30 percent wolf and 10 percent dog.
The population, by his account and others, remains mostly stable from year to year, and is found in all areas of the Cape, indeed across the Commonwealth.
Dave Wattles, a biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said the Commonwealth is “pretty well saturated with coyotes.”
“They started to colonize [here] in the 1950s, and we’re now seeing the far end of that colonization. We now have coyotes in every mainland town in the state, and in relatively high densities. All available habitat is occupied by coyotes.”
Contrary to the popular image of the lone coyote howling at the moon on the open range, coyotes live in small family packs and have become established in urban and residential communities where they have access to even a small wooded area.
While coyote attacks on people are rare, they can prey on pet cats and small dogs.
“Coyotes will see small pets as potential prey items,” noted Wattles.
Gerry Tuoti contributed to this report.
Dr. Way’s advice: Ten do’s and don’ts
Regardless of whether you approve of a coyote hunting contest, the animals are widespread across the Cape and are frequently heard and sometimes seen in all of the towns. Here are some guidelines, provided by Dr. Jonathan Way’s web site (easterncoyoteresearch.com), to bear in mind when dealing with the region’s coyotes:
1. Do chase them away and make noise (bang pots and pans) if you don’t want them in your yard. Of course, if you don’t mind them then watch them from a window quietly as to not scare them away.
2. Do make noise when you are outside especially if coyotes are often in your area. They will often change their course of direction when they hear people. Bring a whistle or horn to scare them away from you.
3. Do not feed coyotes or other animals. Even if you are feeding birds or other animals coyotes will be attracted to your yard just like any other animal looking for an easy handout.
4. Do not feed your pets outside for the same reason as above.
5. Absolutely do not let your cat outside if you are truly concerned with its health. Coyotes are just one of many mortality factors for outdoor cats.
6. Do leash your dogs. Although coyotes may follow a leashed dog out of curiosity (to the concern of the person), it is extremely rare for them to actually get within contact of your pet.
7. Do not let dogs (especially small breeds) outdoors loose without constant supervision. Fences should be at least 5 feet tall and there should not be any places where coyotes can crawl underneath. While a fence does not guarantee total protection, it is a good deterrent to coyotes or humans who would snatch or harm pets left outside alone.
8. Do not leave dogs tied outdoors unsupervised in coyote-prevalent areas.
9. Do not leave dogs and cats outside for any period of time unsupervised, especially at night, even in a fenced enclosure.
10. Do enjoy their presence and the fact that having this wily predator adds to the mystique of your neighborhood.
What: A talk by Dr. Jonathan Way When: Saturday, Feb. 10, noon to 1:30 p.m. Where: Hyannis Public Library, 401 Main Street Followed by: A protest of the coyote hunting contest by Powderhorn Outfitters (2 to 4 p.m.), at 210 Barnstable Road, Hyannis. RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org