Torturing wildlife on the taxpayers’ dime

Bella's babies

Sometimes there just aren’t enough fluffy bunnies in the world.

There’s a U.S. federal agency called “Wildlife Services” that — like many such agencies — has a name about 180 degrees opposed to its actual purpose. Called “Animal Damage Control”  until 1997, Wildlife Services’ job is, bluntly put, to kill or otherwise control wild animals that are perceived as causing problems for humans.

Wildlife Services has a number of different programs, some of them undeniably necessary . The agency coordinates federal wildlife rabies control programs including oral vaccine distribution. It works with airports to deter flocks of geese from flying into jet engines. It plays a role in managing invasive species. Wildlife Services is a division of the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and much of the agency’s mission centers on protecting the interests of American agriculture.

What the agency’s best known for is protecting one specific U.S. agricultural interest — public lands livestock ranchers — from predators. For decades Wildlife Services has worked with ranchers in the American West to kill off predators so that those ranchers’ assets stand a better chance of making it to slaughter. It’s kind of a sweet deal for the ranchers: graze your sheep and cattle on land you don’t own for a dollar and change per head per month and have your competition taken out on the taxpayers’ dime. Never mind that predators can be kept away from most livestock reasonably efficiently by spending a little money, training herd dogs, keeping cattle and sheep together (cattle deter coyotes), or  hiring more herders. That’s out of pocket money for the ranchers. Corporate welfare is just as appealing in Wyoming as it is on Wall Street.

Wildlife Services has taken a lot of criticism for its coyote control methods in the past, including the use of bait stations laced with sodium fluoroacetate, a deadly poison that can inflict significant collateral poisoning on non-target animals if used indiscriminately. Putting a piece of meat out on the range unmonitored, tied to a gun designed to shoot a dose into an animal’s mouth if it tugs on the bait definitely qualifies as indiscriminate, and bait stations intended for coyotes have killed other carnivores from black-footed ferrets to golden eagles.

The agencies has also used leg hold traps and snares to capture coyotes, as well as methods like aerial hunting and use of hunting dogs. All of these are predictably controversial, with sensitive coyote huggers like yours truly taking up positions against and hard-headed pragmatists pointing out that sometimes unpleasant measures are necessary.

I would expect both sides would agree, though, that hiring out the job of coyote control to creepy sadistic assholes is unwarranted. My friends over at Demarcated Landscapes posted yesterday about a Wildlife Services’-employed “wildlife specialist” they’d noticed posting photos of his unorthodox control methods. Those photos are seriously upsetting: the t[disgusting];dr version is that he sets traps for coyotes, then sets his dogs on the immobilized coyotes to rip them to shreds.

[UPDATE: I note that there’s no actual indication that the guy was on the clock with Wildlife Services when he took the photos in question. Still, even if this was “off-duty” recreational torture, hiring him calls Wildlife Services’ screening procedures into question.]

Baby Bunnies

palate cleanser

The Demarcated Landscapes post has apparently stirred up a bit of attention: they’ve been getting hits and image downloads from the USDA office in Fort Collins (which is apparently the “gentleman’s” regional office) including photos this guy has posted to Facebook back to 2010. They cleverly saved screenshots of it all, which is lucky because the guy’s Twitter and Facebook accounts seem to have been closed in the last few hours.

I’m not saying here that it’s uniformly wrong to kill problem coyotes, though Project Coyote has a wide range of excellent resources for people interested in more peaceful methods of coexistence. But if you need to trap a coyote, you’ve got it trapped, you have a gun, and you decide to kill it as a form of one-sided blood sport? I completely agree with Demarcated Landscapes in their summation of the situation:

Please, someone, get this man psychological counseling. Anyone who is entertained or amused by letting his dogs kill a trapped coyote has something very, very wrong with him.

Appallingly enough, this method of killing coyotes seems not to be illegal in much of the west — it’s apparently not even particularly unusual. But on the federal payroll? You can voice your concern, should you be so inclined, to Rod Krischke. Wyoming State Director, Wildlife Services, P.O. Box 59, Casper, WY 82602; (307) 261-5336;




  1. briane says

    In the state of Victoria, OZ. We have an Orwellian named Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE). It’s job title would imply that it is about sustainability and protecting the environment. It’s acts often involve helping farmers and developers get rid of animals like kangaroos and wombats that had the temerity to live on land that would one day be desired by developers and eat grass that farmers could more profitably be had eaten by livestock. I’ve heard more than a few wags refer to the DSE as the Department of Scorched Earth.

    For example, a few years ago, the Department got hunters in to kill roos that were trapped by development. The local Wildlife Victoria chapter was in discussion to tranquilize and move the roos to nearby land that was recently emptied by the bushfire of 09. They had the people, skills and wherewith all to move the roos. The DSE had hunters kill them on Christmas day, because obviously nobody would be expecting it, while still pretending that they wanted to discuss moving the roos. It was only later when people noticed the roos absence that the DSE fessed up. They said they did it for the roos welfare. Apparently being dead is better than being alive and healthy. It also avoided a precedent where the DSE and others would have to move roos instead of the far easier task of killing them……

  2. muirmaid says

    I’ve had to deal with “Wildlife Services” before – roaming through a National Park, seeking coyotes to shoot. It took a bit of work to convince them that they couldn’t just shoot coyotes on national park lands. They seemed to think they could shoot them anywhere, on any public land. There didn’t seem to be a “reason”, either, other than Coyotes Exist.

  3. raven says

    Please, someone, get this man psychological counseling. Anyone who is entertained or amused by letting his dogs kill a trapped coyote has something very, very wrong with him.

    This is true. They can be dangerous.

    Studies show that people who abuse animals occasionally go on to abuse, torture, and kill…humans. Not all of them but some.

    Sort of near where I used to live, the neighbors started finding cats that had been doused with gasoline and set on fire. Shortly after that a kid went berserk and killed his entire family.

  4. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    Would dogs allowed/encouraged to behave this viciously also endanger people?

    Are domesticated dogs an important part of the ecosystem?

  5. fastlane says

    :( I love coyotes. One of the things I really miss about living in Az. One of my favorite things was to take moonlight bicycle rides out to a couple of remote desert areas (I’m not telling anyone where, since coyote hunters might be reading this) and howl with the coyotes.

    I’ve even howled with some of the wolf packs that were being prepared for release. :)

  6. sundoga says

    I’d be one of the “hardheads” – I have no particular problem with killing Coyote. But with sane, humane means, please!

  7. briane says

    Are domesticated dogs an important part of the ecosystem?

    Yes, they are! YES, THEY ARE!!!

    Wouldn’t they then be feral dogs?

  8. Koshka says

    On a similar note, in Australia we have people who go out shooting feral pigs. I have known people who have done this and given out the gory details of what they did to pigs (including killing frshly orphaned piglets by hand). I would point out that what they described is barbaric. They would then get defensive and claim that they are feral pests and they were doing the country a favour. No – they were doing it to get their sick thrills.

    In my opinion killing of problem animals should be done by professional people. It should be a job – not a hobby.

  9. Koshka says

    If you don’t mind my asking, are you (Chris) a vegetarian?

    Please dont tell me you are going to follow this question up by equating setting 2 dogs onto a trapped, injured wild animal with eating meat.

  10. mythbri says

    If you don’t mind my asking, are you (Chris) a vegetarian?

    This question is absolutely irrelevant to this situation. You might as well ask it in context of child abuse.

    “Well, if you’re not a vegetarian, then obviously you sanction mindless cruelty in all its forms! Hypocrite!”


  11. mildlymagnificent says

    I don’t understand why killing coyotes helps very much. Surely other coyotes would just move in to occupy the neatly vacated ecological niche with tasty prey handily within range?

    Llamas for sheep protection have been used in lots of places, including the US, for decades. And you don’t have to pay them anything. Even if farmers were too lousy to fork out for the animals, the “Wildlife Services” administration could run them in a few of these areas as a trial.

  12. kestrel says

    Pretty horrifying and I agree, if you must kill the animal do it quickly and humanely with a gun.

    A lot of people in my area kill coyotes in the belief the coyotes are killing their livestock. I’ve had livestock killed but each time, the “coyote” mysteriously leaves behind dog tracks all around the kill. In other words, so far, I have only ever had problems with domestic dogs. It makes me wonder how common that is; none of my neighbors seem to be able to tell the difference between dog and coyote tracks. I wonder how often dogs have killed something and the coyotes got the blame.

    I have certainly heard of confirmed reports of problems with coyotes, but in my experience domestic dogs do a lot of damage.

  13. procyon says

    It takes a very special mentality to enjoy watching another living creature being torn to shreds while trapped and unable to defend itself.
    It takes an even more special mentality to take pictures of it and proudly post them on the internet for all to see. A mentality that can’t fathom anyone having a problem with that kind of activity.

  14. jehk says

    Very sad to see something like as a former hunter. I was taught to respect the animals we hunted.

    @18 There’s really no such thing as professional hunters anymore. It’s mostly hobby. The ones who are “professional” get paid not to hunt it to assist and guide others in hunting for sport. Hell its more about access to land than anything else.

  15. Ysanne says

    Are domesticated dogs an important part of the ecosystem?

    The ecosystem of their owner’s house and garden, for example? You bet. Just ask their fleas.

    On the OP: Aren’t there any animal welfare laws that would at least make it possible to punish such pointless horrible cruelty?

  16. luslustigtig_ says

    @Rev. BigDumbChimp

    luslustigtig_ I may have misinterpreted your comment.

    No problem, I’ll try to be more clear.

    This coyote-killer is an absolute monster. And I think there is a second disquieting facet to what he is doing. He isn’t just torturing coyotes for fun. I think he is also endangering everyone in his community — through his dogs.

    Less than two months ago in my state, a child was mauled to death by a family dog with a history of attacking other dogs. (Story: Dog mauls, kills 2-year-old girl .) These sorts of tragedies are not uncommon here. It might be connected to the prevalence of dog fighting in New Mexico.

    Returning to the case of this sadist: Encouraging his dogs to rip apart coyotes instills the same sort of aggression, doesn’t it? If his dogs got loose, what might they do to a hiker and her puppy enjoying a day in the back country? To a toddler who’d wandered away from a picnic?

    If Wildlife Services won’t be moved by the plight of the coyotes, maybe including the human angle will rouse them.

  17. katansi says

    Why doesn’t having your dogs tear apart a live coyote qualify as animal cruelty? It’s the equivalent of dog fighting. Forget for a second that it’s fucked up for the coyote but it poses a serious threat to the dogs too. Laws against animal cruelty have to have some say in that right?

  18. Koshka says


    I am referring to hunting of problem animals, particularly pigs in Australia. My understanding is that in some areas such as national parks, professional hunters are paid to cull animals. I can accept hunting as a hobby even though I am not a fan. It is the indiscriminate causing of pain to animals that I don’t like. Particularly when people who do such a thing then try to excuse such behavior as ‘ridding the environment of pests’.

  19. lpetrich says

    Anything on alternatives to trying to kill predators? Sheepdogs are supposedly a good one.

  20. says

    It takes a very special mentality to enjoy watching another living creature being torn to shreds while trapped and unable to defend itself.

    Reminds me of the the time when “Bruno the Problem-Bear” was roaming in southern Germany. For weeks nobody was able to catch him. The just couldn’t find him. Within hours of authorities changing their policy from capture to kill he was shot. Because it’s clearly such an accomplishment to shoot the first bear on German soil in centuries.

    Once in France we visited a small “Nurtia Park”. The guy who ran it was hunting them in winter. Because like most introduced species without their natural predators, they are a bit of a problem for the ecosystem. He was very careful to explain that the hunting has to be good hunting: quick, clean kills, no poison. He really loved those animals as a species.

    Also, bunnies FTW

  21. mildlymagnificent says

    Anything on alternatives to trying to kill predators? Sheepdogs are supposedly a good one.

    Apart from llamas, there are maremmas. Seeing as these dogs are used successfully in Europe where there are local protected populations of wolves, they look to be contenders. We’re even using them in Australia to protect native wildlife, penguins, from dogs and other predators and disturbances. Note, these are not sheepdogs in the round-’em-up kelpie or collie style. They’re strictly protectors.

    I have a feeling they’re horribly expensive though. Llamas would be cheaper to get started.

  22. mildlymagnificent says

    He was very careful to explain that the hunting has to be good hunting: quick, clean kills, no poison.

    I once worked with a bloke who regarded it as a privilege to qualify as a good enough shot with a rifle to be allowed to join teams in one of the outback mountain ranges. It wasn’t enough to be a member of the gun club – you had to pass a proficiency test every year. Can’t remember the details – 100% accuracy, target size of a saucer, at distance *mumble* yards.

    They did an annual shoot as part of the program to eradicate goats in a particular area. Every animal had to be killed by a single head shot or not at all. (They’d also shoot feral cats if they could but only if a chance arose(certainty really). You need a different suite of strategies for cats.)

  23. sundiver says

    What these dumbfucks don’t seem to comprehend is that coyote extermination programs can make the coyote problem worse. They put selection pressure on coyotes to get ever more cunning (had to resist using the term “wily”), which makes the problem worse as the coyote get better and better at eluding hunters and avoiding traps. Also, when the alpha females and/or males are killed their successor(s) breed(s) and having pups to feed induces the pack to go after larger prey and if there is a flock of sheep in the area they’re definitely on the menu. As mildlymagnificent said, llamas are a great deterrent to coyote predation on domestic sheep and other livestock. As a former AZ resident I used to love going to Schnebly Overlook near Sedona and listen to ’em yipping away at night. Like Fastlane I’d howl at them. Now and again one would seem to howl back.

  24. broboxley OT says

    Michael Vick did 4 years in federal prison for similar acts. If a coyote is genus canis that fits the bill.

  25. erichoug says

    Jehk @#26

    There’s really no such thing as professional hunters anymore.

    Actually, I was out at a pump jack in Midland a few years back and one of the electricians said that his first job out of college was hunting coyotes while a guy flew him around in a Cessna. He told me that the state of Texas hired a man who did nothing but hunt mountain lions. He bagged around 200 a year.

  26. erichoug says

    Oh, and just so we don’t get confused, the guy who hunted Coyotes was doing so sometime around 2002-2004.

  27. bradleybetts says

    Why are Llamas good at deterring coyotes? Is it because they are more aggressive than sheep (not difficult, I suppose)? Or are coyotes just particularly afraid of being spat at?

  28. davem says

    Why doesn’t having your dogs tear apart a live coyote qualify as animal cruelty?
    It does, in most civilised countries. He’d be in court, explaining himself.