Mountain lions may be bigger and scarier but for sheer audacity, economic damage and adaptability the large cats can’t compete with coyotes.
“The coyote is the most adaptable predator ever,” says Jan Loven, USDA Animal Damage control specialist.
Loven, speaking at a recent Basic Ag field day in McKinney, Texas, discussed major predators that threaten livestock. “A coyote is worse than a wolf,” he said. “A wolf is bigger but not as smart. And the last time a timber wolf was spotted in Texas was in 1924.” The red wolf has also disappeared from Texas, though the biggest coyotes in the state may be descendents of red wolf and coyote crosses, he said.
Coyotes also reproduce more rapidly than most other predators. “And they protect their litters. The sister from one litter may help protect the next litter. That kind of cooperation is rare in nature. And the pups mature fast. They live in a den for just a month to six weeks.”
Loven said coyotes have few natural enemies. “Great horned owls may take a few pups.”
But the animal’s adaptability may be its greatest asset. “We’re seeing more coyotes in the Metroplex (Dallas/Fort Worth). There may be more in town than in many other counties combined. They are here to stay.”
In addition to the damage they do to livestock Coyotes also carry mange, parvo virus and rabies.
And they do plenty of damage to livestock—and pets in the city. They also eat vegetables and may be especially destructive in watermelon fields.
“Coyotes are programmed to pursue and kill prey,” Loven said. “They are intelligent and capricious. They do a lot of things on a whim, which shows intelligence.”
He said attempts to scare them away seldom work. “Some things may be effective for a while but they get smart and they get harder to get rid of.”
He said coyotes will observe landowners to find best opportunities to take animals. “They will kill in the middle of the day. They know when homeowners leave to go to work and when they come home.”
Loven said coyotes have gone into barns in the middle of the day to kill animals. Smaller animals—sheep, goats and calves—are most vulnerable. But coyotes may gnaw at mama cows at birthing time, while they are down.
“A single bite on the throat of smaller animals is the coyote signature,” Loven said. The coyote bites the throat and suffocates the animal. “If livestock owners see animals with bites on their hindquarters, shoulders, docked tails or wounds all over their bodies, it’s from a dog.
“Next to coyotes, dogs are the greatest livestock and wildlife killers,” he said. “They run in packs and attack sheep, cattle, even horses. Dogs in packs can be more destructive and more dangerous than coyotes. In some counties, dogs are the number one predator of livestock.”
Loven said these dog packs are not feral animals but “your neighbor’s pet.”
He said coyotes may take a heavy toll on local deer populations but do not cause serious depletion to the statewide deer herd.
He said shooting near coyotes to scare the off is ineffective. “If you shot, shoot to kill it,” he said. “Otherwise, they just get smarter.”
Loven said other predators, including feral hogs, cause trouble for livestock owners.
“Hogs are a self-inflicted wound for landowners,” he said. “A ‘night-stocking program’ illegally releasing hogs into the wild, created the problem,” he said. Populations have exploded.
“These are tough animals. They compete with deer for forage and are predators. They kill lambs, goats, calves and may cut larger animals open. Hogs can be aggressive, especially at feeding time.”
He said hogs are not nearly as bad at predation as coyotes but can be a problem.”They also carry diseases such as brucellosis, pseudorabies, tuberculosis, bubonic plague, tularemia, anthrax and trichinosis.
Control is difficult.
“There is no such thing as a hog-proof fence,” Loven said. “Fencing is expensive and requires maintenance. Electric fences may be useful for small areas.”
He said hogs will wise up to traps. “Regardless of how a trap is built, hogs will get smart. A big boar is not likely to go into a trap. Putting a roof on the trap is a good idea.”
He said traps are cumbersome; hogs become “trap shy,” and they look for alternative food sources. He recommends trappers leave traps open for awhile to allow the animals to become accustomed to moving in and out.
“The best time to trap is January and February, when food choices are limited. Hogs will move to food sources and may travel great distances.”
He said snares work. “We’ve caught a lot of hogs with snares and it seems to take longer for hogs to get smart to snares. But make certain the drags attached to the snares are heavy.”
A major disadvantage of snares is that they catch non-target animals, such as dogs. He said using dogs to hunt hogs is not particularly effective. “For one thing it’s hard to find good ones and they are hard to train.”
“The helicopter is the hog’s worst enemy,” Loven said. In one operation and about 40 hours of flight time he said operators killed more than 1400 hogs. “That will reduce the hog population faster than anything else.”
But helicopters have limitations. “We can’t fly all areas. We have to have written permission to fly over a property. It takes a lot of prep time to establish flight areas. Also, diesel is expensive; flying can be hazardous; and we have low success rates in heavy brush. Finally, we have only two helicopters to cover all of Texas.”
Loven said other predators that trouble Southwest livestock include the red fox, bobcat and the mountain lion.
“The red fox was introduced from New England and can be a problem,” he said. “It kills not just to eat but for recreation.”
He said bobcats “can be bad on livestock, especially lambs, kids and deer. But they are easier to catch than coyotes and they don’t reproduce as rapidly.”
He said mountain lions are easy to trap. “They travel widely but when trappers learn their patterns they can catch them easily.” Lions are trouble mostly in West Texas and are not common East of Palo Pinto, Erath, Stevens or Lampasas Counties.
“Mountain lions are not rare, endangered or threatened,” he said.
Loven said his job is to “mitigate damage of wildlife. Our agency is faced with reality, not politics,” he said. “These are nuisance pests and predators don’t vote.”