What Is Found There

We’re often asked to examine our “own backyards.”  That is, to check out what’s closest to us and perhaps not noticeable, to admit to our own glass houses when we’re poised to throw rocks.

And so it’s particularly disturbing to realize that some of the most grizzly and unethical “hunting” activities take place in “the land of enchantment,” New Mexico.

Wildlife killing contests.  Have you heard of them?  Many, maybe most, people have not.  They occur in most states in the U.S. with the exception of California which recently outlawed them.  They are contests sponsored by companies and advertisers who award prizes for the most animals killed.  In New Mexico this means coyotes, bobcats, foxes, mainly but other targets can include prairie dogs, skunks, badgers, and other unprotected species.  Photographs show coyotes strung up by their legs or bloody bodies simply stacked reminiscent of the photo ops of extirpation of the bison in the l9th century.  Or in the case of a recent kill site near the local airport in Las Cruces, 39 carcasses strewn over the desert floor.  No amount of wiliness can save coyotes and other mammals from the killing fields made possible by trick devices, AR-15 rifles developed for the military, deadly at long distances.  Neither meat for eating nor furs are taken at such events.  The purpose is purely killing indiscriminately for fun.  Blood sport.

Hunters who participate in these events sometimes argue that such contests help quell the coyote population, thus protecting cattle and sheep.  But studies repeatedly show that coyotes are self-regulating with more pups born to surviving Beta females and an increase in the number of younger transient individuals that may be more predisposed to attack livestock.  Coyotes help keep prey populations like rodents in check and as with the decimation of any top predator, the result is an imbalance throughout the ecosystem.

Facts alone which can be handily recited don’t tell the story of suffering of individual animals when family packs are disrupted, pups orphaned, let alone the suffering of the targeted animal itself.  Pain and suffering are as real for our fellow predators as ourselves.

In a time when it seems facts are ignored or declared as shifty as the stereotype of trickster coyote, perhaps we are best served to realize that this is really an ethical question, an ethical situation.  Is it really even hunting when there is no fair chase and when animals are taken without respect for their character, behavior, feelings–yes, feelings– their very right to be on the planet?  And in the religious sense, having dominion over our fellow creatures means protection, cherishing, not the objectification of long scope on a rifle.  No wonder that last year at the Catholic diocese in Santa Fe, there was a blessing of the wolves.  Wolves in attendance.

New Mexico is finally beginning to look at what is in its own backyard and in the upcoming state legislative session a bill will be offered–with a good chance of passing–to ban coyote killing contests in the state.  This bill follows years of work by a number of grassroots entities who believe “enchantment” is the wealth of bio-diversity to be protected and cherished in the state.  Clearly this is only the tip of the iceberg; wildlife killing contests need to be banned, unprotected species protected, and game commissions staffed by folks knowledgeable about wildlife rather than cronyism.

What’s in our own backyard?

(Photo courtesy of Charles Fox)

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