Southwest Wildlife Discovery Series: When a Predator is Removed

By Lori Ann Busse, Volunteer docent, SWCC

“You’ve got to get rid of these coyotes,” the woman screamed over the phone at one of our emergency call volunteers, “one of them tried to grab my dog and run off with it!” She said her husband had let their 9-pound dog out the front door to “use the bathroom.” A coyote at the right place at the right time (from the coyote’s perspective) tried to take advantage of this unleashed small dog. “You have to come get rid of these coyotes!” she repeated. That’s an understandable reaction given the horror she still felt from the incident. There was explaining to do on the part of our emergency call team…

A coyote needs to eat 20–25 mice every day just to survive. That’s a lot of hunting! But coyotes are also opportunistic predators. They will take any chance for an easy meal. You really can’t blame the coyote for trying to press his advantage. But dog lovers might see it differently.

Why was that coyote in that particular area in the first place? The answer is simple: because there was food available there. The availability of adequate water and shelter (like dense brush) also make a particular habitat attractive to a predator.

Predators such as coyotes, bobcats, wolves and mountain lions choose territories with reliable food, water and shelter resources. To do otherwise would be counter-productive to their survival. There is generally very little overlapping of territories within a specific species; the territories of two bobcats usually don’t overlap significantly. But a coyote pack and a bobcat may share territory.

So, what happens if a bobcat is removed from its territory? That territory must have been an attractive habitat, or the original bobcat wouldn’t have been a resident there. Eventually another bobcat will discover the void and move into that territory. This is guaranteed! When one predator is removed, another of that species will ultimately claim that vacant territory and fill the vacuum created by the removal of the original predator. Therefore, removing that coyote and its pack mates would accomplish nothing. Another pack would soon move into that territory and replace them.

Where do these animals come from? Once bobcats and mountain lions, and some wolves and coyotes, become sub-adults, they will disperse — leaving their mothers or packs in search of their own territories, or to create or join another pack.

Please be aware that feeding deer or other wildlife, providing a reliable source of water (a trough for horse, or bowl for a pet), and allowing dense brush near your buildings, may attract animals, which, in turn, attract predators. Caring for domestic pets in the desert is often an invitation to predators for multiple reasons. Watch over your pets so that they too are safe in the area they are housed and that it does not provide an invitation to unwanted wildlife.

Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center (SWCC) maintains an emergency call line to help abandoned and injured wildlife. Our volunteers try to help callers understand how to live safely with our natural desert wildlife. If you see an injured or orphaned coyote, bobcat, javelina, skunk or raccoon, please call our emergency line at 480.433.5656.

Find out more about how wildlife is rescued, rehabilitated and kept safe in our sanctuary at southwestwildlife.org. Tours are given Tuesday through Saturday by reservation only.

Comments

  1. Steven Childs says:

    When predators are removed another may eventually full that niche. However, the author failed to include bold predatory behavior is often taught to pups. Not addressing one problematic coyote attacking a pet may lead to more coyotes developing similar risk taking behavior.

    As much as pet owners should be vigilant, animal advocates should realize bold predatory behavior should be addressed as well.

    • M Bromfkins says:

      What Steven Childs failed to include is that any animal can exhibit bold predatory behavior, while it may be taught that’s not the only way it happens. Pet owners should be vigilant because the level of freedom that we are demanding for our pets doesn’t exist anywhere in the natural world.

      “When predators are removed another may eventually full [sic] that niche.” essentially means that this article is correct but Steven doesn’t want to accept it.

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