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Wendy Keefover-Ring

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Veterinarian Poisons Wildlife, Brags About it on Facebook

Posted: 06/20/11 11:20 AM ET

According to a news account, a Santa Fe veterinarian set out beef-basted rat poison to kill a coyote that ate an outdoor cat and bragged about it on Facebook. This incident raises issues about ethics, values, biology, and ability to co-exist with coyotes.

Euthanasia, from the Greek, means good death.

The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) Guidelines on Euthanasia do not include killing wildlife with rat poison because such a death is cruel and prolonged -- often lasting days -- after causing painful internal hemorrhaging.

Death by a rodenticide represents the opposite of euthanasia, it is a bad death. Besides welfare concerns, rat poisons raise alarming ecological concerns.

Poisoned rodents can cause secondary toxicity for animals that scavenge upon them either when dead or dying. A 2007 study in California by Seth Riley and his colleagues found that rat poisons were pervasive in wild populations of bobcats, coyotes, and cougars. Humans too readily set out these dangerous poisons without fully understanding their implications.

Rat poison make these wild carnivores susceptible to mange, which causes dehydration, starvation, and then death. The implications are dire. Some have likened rat poison to the new DDT of our time.

Rat poisons create welfare concerns through primary poisoning, through secondary poisoning, and increasing wild carnivores' exposure to mange. These poisons also harm the balance of nature because whole populations of native carnivores are weakened and sickened by them.

Instead of using rat poisons, native wild carnivores' predation work is a much better, safer, and natural alternative. But that runs counters to some people's belief systems.

Caren Cowan of the New Mexico Livestock Association told the Santa Fe New Mexican that the veterinarian had the right to poison the coyotes to protect her "property". She added that coyotes "are a huge problem for livestock owners."

A Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ranger told the veterinarian it was okay to shoot as many coyotes as she could find because their populations are "out of control here."

Both are misguided in the face of facts and the best available science.

According to the Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) National Statistics Service (NASS), the total cattle and sheep inventory in the United States equals 99,628,200.

Of that number, 467,100 sheep and cattle, or 0.5% of the inventory, were killed by native carnivores such as coyotes, but also by domestic dogs.

NASS's reports come from livestock growers' own information.

The predation myth represents a big fat lie imposed on the American public. It exists so that the cattle and sheep industrialists can justify their savage, paramilitary war on wildlife.

Individuals and the federal government wage war upon coyotes and other native carnivores via poisons, traps, snares, and aerial gunning regimes. This war is often paid through tax dollars to the USDA's "Wildlife Services" program. "Wildlife Services" spends over $100 million each year exterminating the public's wildlife purportedly to "benefit" agribusiness -- even when livestock predation is less than one percent. It's another special interest subsidy that actually benefits few, if any, against the wildlife conservation interests of the majority, and to the detriment of wildlife.

The true killers of cattle and sheep, says NASS, are respiratory problems, birth problems, illness and disease. Therefore, Cowan's anxieties are simply misdirected.

The BLM ranger is incorrect too. The numbers of coyotes in New Mexico is unknown. Carnivore population sizes are set by the amount of prey. If there's plenty of mice and rabbits, coyote numbers will increase correspondingly.

Furthermore, coyotes respond to human persecution and loss of individuals by changing their breeding strategies and through immigration. So killing coyotes does not reduce their numbers over the long run.

Coyotes are resilient in the face of persecution, unlike other larger carnivores such as wolves, grizzly bears, mountain lions, and jaguars.

But even the medium-sized coyote is an important ecosystem actor. Coyotes increase the biological diversity of natural systems. To do this, coyotes contain the populations of smaller carnivores such as badgers, foxes, skunks, and yes, house cats, which readily prey upon ground-nesting birds or their eggs. When coyotes are around, the diversity of life increases.

Coyotes, beautiful golden song dogs, are part of the fabric of life. Most New Mexicans embrace these wild natives for their inherent splendor, playfulness, and talents.

Now its time for veterinarians, the livestock industry, and New Mexico's largest land manager, the BLM, to do the same. Leaving cats outdoors shows a lack of personal responsibility -- for which a coyote should not pay the ultimate price: the agonizing death by rodenticide.