Predators are animals that survive by killing and eating other animals. Because the idea of killing as a way of life is distasteful to the general public – and because predators do, on occasion, kill domestic livestock – people have severely persecuted predators. Often called vermin or varmits, predators have been subjects of control programs.
Lets look at how control programs have impacted one predator that everyone has – the coyote. (The results are typical for all predators however, so this can apply to wolves, lions, etc!)
Control Methods Commonly Used in Predator Control
- Trapping and Hunting
- Denning – Killing animals in the den
- Varmit Shooting – Predator “calling”, aerial gunning
- Bounty – Animals worth money
- Poison – Strychnine, cyanide, compound 1080, “M-44 coyote getter”, etc
Federal predator control efforts are supervised by an agency in the US Department of Agriculture called Wildlife Services (formerly known as “ADC” or the Animal Damage Control Agency). Wildlife Services kills 70,000-85,000 coyotes/year (“take”) in the western states. This plus other control programs may remove 18-20% fo the western coyote population. Federal predator control activities are being questioned by today’s society.
Effect of Control Methods on Coyotes
Research has shown that although the general effect of predator control is to depress densities, the coyote population is very resilient. There is evidence that coyotes compensate for removed animals (lower population densities) by producing large litters and breeding at an earlier age.
Computer simulations show that only the highest control levels will substantially reduce coyote numbers. It would take an annual removal of 75% to exterminate a coyote population in 50 years!
Very often, predator control programs are too costly to implement to achieve real control of the animal in question. And in trying to control a predator, you can seriously impact other wildlife species or “Non-Target Species” (animals accidentally killed while trying to kill or control another species) – the “I didn’t mean to kill it” animal.
The public has definite feelings about what are acceptable ways to control predators! (See graph below!)
Considering the coyote example, are there ever any occasions when predator control, or any type of animal population control, is useful as a management tool? YES!
- On intensively managed areas where maximizing the production of a species is your management objective.
- E.g., Waterfowl refuge in Minnesota: six year predator control program resulted in a 60% increase in duckling production.
- In control of disease
- Where the survival of a threatened or endangered species is endangered by a predator.
- E.g., Mongoose and Nene Goose in Hawaii
- Where declines and a low population in a species, brought about by severe weather or hunting, may be maintained by a predator
- E.g., Due to severe winters, the moose population in a section of Alaska experienced a decline. If left alone the population was predicted to recover to a huntable population size in 6-8 years, but if wolves were controlled, the moose population was predicted to recover to a huntable population size in 4-6 years instead.
- Protection of human safety in specific situations
- E.g., Airports
Predator control should be practiced ONLY when it is ESSENTIAL to accomplish management objectives. A predator control program should be (a) as selective as possible, and (b) based on sound ecological data – NOT BASED ON EMOTION!
When people complain about predators, always remember the benefits predators provide!
- They are a natural form of rodent control
- Predators keep wildlife populations healthy by mainly killing sick and old animals
Like I stated earlier, while this post focused mainly on coyotes (a predator that we all have), it can be applied to any predator. These concepts can be used for bears, wolves, birds of prey, and others. And don’t just think of large, big game animals – there are a lot of small predators that can apply to backyard wildlife management (think rats, shrews, snakes, and others). Predator control can be applied to any size area and to many different animals!
Just remember, think of your overall ecosystem health and try to strike a balance with any management technique. And most importantly: keep everything in perspective! I know those baby bunnies are very cute, but try to leave your emotions aside when a red fox finds its dinner – it just decreased competition for your other rabbits!