Sunday, January 10, 2010

Coyotes or Dogs?

This is one of those stories in which you know there's a lot more than meets the eye.

In 2004, a wealthy entrepreneur purchased land in Forestburgh, New York. In an interesting move, he took it upon himself to erase the portion of the property's deed that stated the property could only be used for residential purposes. That done, he decided to create a tourist attraction with the addition of llamas and alpacas, whose fleeces he'd sell. The original land owner, who retained property nearby, was upset and believed the man, who we'll call SS (short for his actual name), violated the property's deed. SS was sued and inspired the ire of many neighbors who didn't move to this part of New York to have alpacas and llamas strutting around in mud next door. This issue has sparked so much debate that SS had to file a couple restraining orders against neighbors, and the town hall meetings sound more like a witch hunt than an act of civic participation.

In April of 2009, the former land owner, BW, we'll call him, adopted two Belgian Malinois who came from a neglectful situation at a farm.

Flash forward to October 2009. On the 19th, while SS was out of town, three canines entered the alpaca pen and began attacking the animals. Farm workers heard the screams of the animals and ran to the scene. They saw three canines exit the property but were not close enough to determine if they were dogs or coyotes. Nine of the animals were attacked, killing seven, including - and I think this is important - one llama who was a guardian to the alpacas. The other six were alpacas. A week later, armed farm workers discovered a lone dog in the alpaca pen. In lieu of chasing the dog away, they pumped five bullets into the dog, killing him. The dog, it turns out, was one of the Belgian Malinois belonging to BW.

Case closed?

No. Now, according to an animal control officer investigating the shooting, the dog didn't do it. According to the animal control officer, it was coyotes. I'm not sure what he is basing his evidence on - pictures, necropsies, interviews, what?

I've seen dogs attack livestock. I've seen a coyote attempt to attack lambs on a free-range sheep ranch. Where I work, we've had both dogs enter the property as well as coyotes. The dogs always chased or bothered the animals, while the coyotes - interestingly enough - haven't shown predatory interest in the animals (before the poultry enclosure was predator proof, they certainly did).

The modus operandi seems different. Dogs tend to engage in some of the predatory behaviors but oftentimes neglect with the big follow-through - the actual consummatory behavior, eating the animal. They tend to kill multiple animals and rarely eat them. Depending on the dog, many of the bites are body wounds, leg wounds, and not so much attempts at the stereotypical "going for the throat".

Around here, the coyotes travel solo or in small groups. The largest group I've ever seen have been six coyotes and that was abnormal. I don't know the social structure of coyotes in Forestburgh, New York or their size difference. Coyotes around here (northern California) are pretty small, no more than 40 lbs in healthy conditions. Mostly, they're slender, lithe, small/medium sized animals who prey heavily on ground squirrels. Perhaps the coyotes in Forestburgh are much larger, I don't know.

The coyote I saw trying to take out some lambs was not interested in attempting to attack every animal in the flock. She zeroed in on one lamb, tried for about 15 seconds to get him, then backed off when the ewe charged her. She tried a couple more times, before I arrived screaming and flashing my pit bull wildly at the coyote (Mina would have preferred I hadn't picked her up for the flashing purposes). The screaming would have been fine, the coyote didn't stick around, I didn't expect her to. I knew, though, that had she caught a lamb, she would not have dropped him and tried to kill ten more. If she wasn't physically or mentally unsound, that is. I could see a rabid coyote or one with distemper or meningitis acting abnormally, but mostly, coyotes, like most wild canines, prefer to kill what they can gorge themselves on and worry about killing other animals later (certainly if the opportunity presented itself for a large group of wild canines to easily take down several prey animals, I imagine they'd take that chance.)

The llama is interesting. Llamas hate coyotes. They hate dogs too, generally, but they are behaviorally and physically equipped to deal with coyotes pretty effectively. It's why they are used as predator protection animals, especially coyotes. There is a pasture-based chicken farm that added two llamas after coyotes kept killing the chickens - no more dead chickens. The fact that the guardian llama was also killed seems  important. Not saying a llama couldn't be killed by three coyotes, certainly they could, but opportunistic predators tend to avoid really aggressive "prey" animals who kick, charge and hurt them.

Add to the fact that a dog was shot and killed merely a week later and I believe the three canines in question were most likely of the domestic variety. Perhaps the two Malinois weren't normally likely to attack the alpacas or llama (they had lived with farmed animals before), and perhaps the addition of that other domestic dog increased the chance for predatory behavior gone bad. I don't know, but I don't think coyotes did it.

Hopefully, the council and town realizes that the most likely culprits were domestic dogs and don't go on a coyote witch hunt. Coyotes already have it tough, they're sort of the pit bulls of the wild canine world. :)

Reading the articles, what do you think? Coyotes or dogs?


PoochesForPeace said...

REading what you said and that the previous land owner was upset about SS having the it possible the previous land owner could have had something to do with this?

Rinalia said...

I assume the two dogs are the previous landowner's - he lives nearby. But I would like to hope that he didn't intentionally allow his dogs to run loose living so close to farmed animals.

Retrieverman said...

Coyotes are different on the East Coast. They form packs and hunt large prey.

Malinois are herding dogs, and many herding dogs have the full predatory sequence. The only thing is that dogs and coyotes have to learn how to dissect the things they have killed. Most dogs never learn this, even if they are good at killing.

But these are rural dogs, so they could have learned it.

Llamas (domesticated guanacos) hate all dogs. The main predators of their crias in the wild are the wolfish "foxes" called chillas and culpeos (and culpeos look like coyotes). It would be very rare for a dog or coyote to kill a llama, but my guess is a pack of large dogs or a wolves probably could.

Alpacas, by contrast, are far more likely to be attacked by dogs and coyotes. They are smaller and are derived from vicuñas.

Coyotes can surplus kill, but in general, they are too nervous to do so. A coyote can get injured hunting large prey, and because they can't go to the vet, they are far less likely to take risks. Dogs are much more likely to take risks.

I think the Malinois are guilty, but the officials don't want to tick off a nasty neighbor dispute. It's happened where I live. Coyotes often get blamed for surplus killing sheep or calves, even though it was much more likely that the neighbors' dogs did it.

Pibble said...

I don't think coyotes did it, either.

Coyotes in the East do pack, and do kill larger prey, but not for fun. They kill to eat.

What you've described sounds a lot more like three dogs on the prowl. Three large dogs - coyotes are around 40-45 lbs. while the Malinois can be up to 75 lbs. A much better match for a llama or alpaca. And, if the animals were killed but not consumed, it points to dogs, not coyotes.

Now, since this is a small hamlet in New York, the ACO might be changing his story based on small town politics. He who has the money makes the rules. So now, BW's Malinois didn't attack his nemesis's animals after all. The coyotes did it. The neighbors didn't really want a petting zoo in their back yard with all that traffic anyway, right?

I would bet there is a lot more to this story we haven't yet heard.