Lions and tigers and . . . coyotes, oh my! Other predators may be better known, but for destroying livestock, coyotes win. So the U.S. government has endorsed bursting poison capsules to kill these wily hunters.
Opponents are concerned. They say the devices harm other animals—and potentially people too.
Coyotes once roamed mostly the prairies and deserts of the West. Today, they inhabit forest and mountain areas. They show up at farms, in yards in rural areas—even in heavily populated cities throughout most of North America.
God made coyotes intelligent. They see and smell well; they run fast, swim strong, and bound easily over fences. This makes them dangerous to other animals. Plus, coyotes will eat almost any living thing, including calves, chickens, lambs, and pets.
For centuries, farmers and ranchers have tried to protect farm animals from predators like the coyote. In the 1960s, wildlife management officials began using a device called the M44 against coyotes.
An M44 is a metal stake and a holder with a capsule inside. The capsule contains a small amount of sodium cyanide, a toxic chemical. Users drive the stake into the ground and smear bait onto the holder’s cover. Coyotes smell the bait. They chew and pull on the device. This bite-tug action bursts the capsule, releasing poison into the animal’s mouth.
There are strict rules for using M44s. No one may place an M44 within 600 feet of a home or 300 feet of a public road or path. Users must also post warning signs near the poison bombs.
The Agriculture Department’s wildlife-trapping program trains people to use these Environmental Protection Agency-approved devices. Last year, federal wildlife trappers and hunters killed 6,579 animals with M44s. Sadly, they also killed more than 200 other animals unintentionally.
Several conservation groups tried to ban M44s. Some oppose any device that kills animals for any reason. Others point to the cases where people or pets were accidentally hurt or killed.
In 2017, an M44 injured a 14-year-old boy walking near his home and killed his dog. Other instances include accidental poisonings of people simply rock hunting or dog walking.
“You’re out hiking with your dogs and your children, and you come across these,” says Collette Adkins of the Center for Biological Diversity. “You have to be lucky enough to see one of [the] signs.”
Supporters of the M44 say the device requires both chewing and tugging—so they say accidents should be few. Mostly, livestock and agricultural groups believe the device is necessary. In 2015, coyotes killed about 17,000 cattle. Plus, coyotes carry several diseases, including rabies.
According to animal specialist Jan Loven, coyotes are “the most adaptable predator ever.” Most experts agree that saving livestock requires serious measures.