LAS CRUCES – Nearly 40 dead coyotes dumped in the desert outskirts of Las Cruces, some with wood blocks in their mouths marked with the date they were killed, are the latest sign of the excesses of coyote-killing contests, say advocates who want to see the derbies banned.
At least 10 environmental groups are hoping to push legislation this session outlawing the contests in New Mexico, much as California did last month. They say the contests, which reward participants for the largest number killed or biggest animal shot, serve no legitimate wildlife management purpose.
Supporters of the contests say coyotes are akin to varmints and identify in online forums as “predator callers,” a reference to their use of hand or electronic calling to attract coyotes.
But a co-founder of a local coyote hunting club said wholesale dumping of coyotes is “very much frowned upon.”
The hunting of coyotes is unregulated in New Mexico, and the contests are legal. There are no limits to the number of animals that may be killed.
Wildlife advocates counted some 20 such contests around New Mexico in 2014 but say the number is understated because many are not publicized.
Advocates say they are in talks with two possible sponsors of a bill to ban the contests, one Democrat and one Republican. The legislation would mirror a House bill to ban the contests that failed in the 2013 legislative session by a 38-30 vote.
California is the first state to ban wildlife-killing contests, although some states such as Colorado place limits on the number of animals that can be taken.
“The animals are not being eaten or used in any way; they are just being killed, and they are being killed for sport,” said Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center in Las Cruces. “It disrupts natural ecosystems and undermines the ability of coyotes to provide their ecological role in maintaining healthy systems, in regulating populations of prey animals like rodents and rabbits.”
Bixby recently counted 39 coyotes strewn around creosote, broken glass and tossed cardboard boxes used for target practice near the Las Cruces airport.
The mouths of the animals were stuffed open with wood or bullets inscribed with the date they were killed – Dec. 21 – a practice used in contests. A few had been skinned, but most were tossed to rot.
New Mexico Desert Dogs holds coyote-killing contests around Las Cruces and bills itself on a Facebook page as a “hunting club for those folks that have a passion, appreciation, fondness … for coyote hunting.”
A co-founder of the club who identified himself only as Ruben said the group was not behind the dumped carcasses. He defended coyote-killing contests as “a way for people to gather and share the same culture and love for the sport” and said such dumping – instead of burying the animals or donating pelts to apprentice taxidermists – is “a shame on the hunting community.”
“It is a sport,” he said in a telephone interview. “It takes precision and skill and timing and effort to go and harvest coyotes.”
The legislation the wildlife advocacy groups are backing would ban coyote-killing contests for material gain but would not prohibit killing coyotes that threaten property, such as livestock or pets.
“They are commercial events: killing animals for the purpose of entertainment, prizes and publicity,” said Guy Dicharry of the Los Lunas-based Wildlife Conservation and Advocacy Southwest. “You’re really out there trying to win. This is not focused on predator management. It’s random.”