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Point of View: It’s time to end wildlife killing contests in Oklahoma

Camilla Fox
Camilla Fox

One morning in the 1930s in Yellowstone, biologist Adolph Murie watched a trotting coyote joyously toss a sprig of sagebrush in the air with her mouth, adroitly catch it, and repeat the act every few yards. Murie was conducting a study to prove that coyotes were “the archpredator of our time.” But the biologist, whose work ultimately exonerated the animals, was more impressed by that sprig-tossing — proof of the joy a coyote took in being alive.

We might share Murie’s fascination with this intelligent, playful creature. Instead, we kill roughly half a million of them annually in the United States. No other animal in American history has suffered the kind of persecution we have rained down on coyotes. For a long stretch of the 20th century the federal government even sought their outright extermination.

Amid that coyote war, biologists Fred Knowlton and Guy Connolly explained how coyotes could withstand such scorched-earth warfare. When left alone, coyote populations stabilize, whereas under persecution, colonizing mechanisms kick in. If alpha females die, beta females breed — the result being more surviving offspring. Pressured, packs break up and individuals colonize new areas. Half a century of killing produced coyote Manifest Destiny.

On Saturday, Sperry 4H hosts a predator hunt where “hunters” will kill coyotes and bobcats for cash and “bragging rights.” Whichever team obtains the greatest total weight of all animals killed wins the prize — with side pots for biggest bobcat and biggest, littlest and mangiest coyote. On Jan. 24-25, a church in Ada hosts a bobcat and coyote tournament.

Egregious wildlife killing contests are no different than dogfighting, but are legal in Oklahoma. The 4H claims the contests will protect livestock — but there is no credible evidence that indiscriminately killing predators serves any beneficial wildlife management purpose. Coyote packs may predate on livestock more when killed in higher numbers, whereas packs not disrupted by lethal control can actually prevent livestock losses.

More than 70 conservation scientists signed a statement condemning killing contests, but organizers still promote them as a recreational pursuit and a way to attract young hunters. Their victims are not only coyotes, but the very depiction of rural America, tarnished by images of beefy men in camouflage, guns in hand and trucks piled high with carcasses no one will ever eat.

No thoughtful human being should sacrifice for pleasure or as a wager an animal like the one Murie observed in Yellowstone. Doing so is immoral — not in a religious sense, but in reference to morality’s origins, the evolution of a sense of fairness among members of a social species, which early on came to include a human recognition that other creatures enjoy being alive and that depriving them of life is a very serious matter.

In 2019, Arizona, Massachusetts and New Mexico joined California and Vermont in outlawing these events. The Massachusetts wildlife agency noted, “public controversy over this issue has the potential to threaten predator hunting and undermine public support for hunting in general[.]”

Killing for mere pleasure animals that for 5 million years have played an important role in America is shortsighted and wrong. If ranchers use common-sense husbandry and proven nonlethal measures, coyotes pose no unique or overwhelming danger. We ought to appreciate them rather than target them in bloodsport.

Fox is the founder and executive director of Project Coyote and co-author of “Coyotes In Our Midst.” Flores is the author of numerous books including “Coyote America” and serves as an ambassador to Project Coyote.

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<strong>Dan Flores</strong>

Dan Flores

<figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Dan Flores " title=" Dan Flores "><figcaption> Dan Flores </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Camilla Fox " title=" Camilla Fox "><figcaption> Camilla Fox </figcaption></figure>