Fencing to Replace Killing as a Means to Control Coyote Populations in Problem Areas

In all countries where predators and humans coexist there is the potential for conflict. Throughout the United States of America (USA) coyotes (Canis latrans), are one such predator. They are considered by livestock farmers to be a pest and they are branded a problem species. The worldwide trend to address ‘problem animals’ is from a holistic management perspective, rather than killing them (De Wet, 2007).

Coyotes are extremely adaptable to the human modified environment and are able to take over niches of  other animals that are no longer able to survive in newly created environmental conditions (De Wet, 2007). Livestock damage control has been a very complex issue because of the coyotes’ adaptability, learning ability, resilience, agility and resourcefulness. The lack of larger, more powerful predators has given coyotes (a meso-predator) the advantage.

The livestock industry is here to stay even though some may want to tell us otherwise. Just as businessmen or ordinary salary earners cannot allow their earnings to be eroded, so does a person in the agricultural business have similar rights (De Wet, 2007).  I am not going into the justification of livestock production, however I strongly encourage the aim of prevention to limit damage by coyotes, and not killing them.

I have been fortunate to have worked in different parts of  South Africa (SA), such as:  near goat and sheep ranches in the Karoo, Southern and Eastern Cape province, on and near beef ranches in the Drakensberg region of Kwazulu/Natal, on dairy facilities in the  Natal/Kwazulu midlands, and around Kruger National park in the North East,  where jackal-proof fencing has been erected. In SA the black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) is and always has been considered a problem animal to the livestock farming community, just as coyotes are in the USA. Also, like coyotes, jackal are considered highly adaptable opportunistic feeders, feeding on domestic livestock (Hall-Martin and Botha, 1980). Jackal are a very similar cousin to the coyote in the USA, in their ecology and behavioral aspects.

The African Black-Backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas)

Jackal-proof fencing has been used in SA since the early 20th century, McKee (1913) cited the use of jackal-proof fencing to protect livestock from carnivores and urged its use throughout the nation. In the 1960’s the jackal population had increased in size considerably and caused a great deal of tension among the nations livestock producers because of the ever increasing livestock damage taking place. There were, just as there are now, limitations to any form of fencing, most notably was the constructive cost. It was because of the great economic loss from the livestock industry, which reduced private farmers and government income, that the government started the ‘Fencing Act, no. 31 of 1963’ to assist farmers with construction of jackal-proof fencing (would also prevent other predators) in many problem areas. This act regulates issues with regard to boundary fences of farms and provides for the obligatory contribution to erection and maintenance of boundary fences and their conversion into jackal-proof fences in certain areas. Many fences were erected nationwide, which caused a dramatic reduction in food resources for the high population of jackal. This in turn caused greater competition among them, increasing survival stress levels, eventually reducing the jackal conception rates and population numbers to manageable levels.

Jackal proof fence in South Africa. Design diagram appears at the end of the article.

I feel that a similar program, including financial aid, to assist farms/ranches in construction and the erection of fences should be urged of the government here in the USA to naturally reduce coyote population numbers in problem areas. I also feel that changes in livestock management techniques should be considered to prevent the risk of potential damage. Coyotes can absorb great losses and still maintain a presence. In the USA, in almost every state nationwide, there is open hunting on coyotes and even existing bounties in some states. However the numbers still seem to increase, because of their learning ability, adaptability, and availability of food resources. Simulation models for coyotes predict that at 70% reduction per annum the population would not be eliminated (De Wet, 2007). Sure humans could go out and totally eradicate the coyote completely, but this would be expensive and labor intensive, not to mention further increasing the rodent populations and/or other species preyed upon by coyotes. Once a predator is removed, the potential for other problem species competing for the new territory is highly possible.

It may be because of the open year-round hunting, the presence of coyotes near livestock even with no evidence nor indication  of livestock damage, and the fact that coyotes are a predator species that many livestock farmers (and also urban citizens) feel threatened. This psychological threatened feeling fuels increased aggressive revenge, which in many cases leads to the death of innocent coyote victims. These people will go to whatever means they can to kill the coyote. In many cases this leads to abuse, and should not be tolerated.  Strict legislation preventing this from happening is needed.  Many of these livestock farmers will use dogs to hunt down the coyotes, which causes a terrible death by being torn apart, whereas others will actually place bait (dead livestock carcasses) in accessible areas to purposefully attract coyotes with the sole aim to kill them for what they call ‘fun’. Then there are others that psychologically feel that because they are human they have the right to eliminate other species, what they call ‘competing species‘, just because they can. This ignorance leads to blatant stupidity, as other potential ‘problem animals’ increase in numbers. When most people know that there is an effective solution to the problem (by a particular predator species) they are more tolerant to the presence of individuals that are not causing the problem (De Wet, 2007).

I do understand however that fencing alone may not be enough to prevent attacks on livestock altogether, as over time coyotes may determine how to breach the fence and once inside they may not be able to get out and attacks may continue. Therefore, continued maintenance would be imperative, which can be time consuming. The cost in time and minor quantities of reparation material should be considered in light of the cost of the potential loss of livestock.

Potential livestock management protection methods should be overviewed by the livestock producers in conjunction with wildlife management agencies and biodiversity management officials, to determine the least invasive methods possible that allow farmers to continue their production levels. The methods suggested by Marnewick (2008), include: 1) Carefully looking at the calving/lambing season, ensuring all or most females produce young at the same time periods, which will provide heightened protection from the mothers. Calving or lambing season could also be synchronized at the same time as deer and/or antelope, thereby ensuring that there is enough outside food resource for the coyotes. 2) Providing predator-proof (coyote-proof) enclosures for the young livestock and their mothers when they are most vulnerable to attack. This is where coyote-proof fencing could be used without disrupting other protected wildlife species.  3) Providing solar electric fencing around problem areas or in combination with coyote -proof fencing  for extra protection. 4) Human presence by means of a herder or sheppard, which entails weighing the difference between loss of livestock to coyotes and paying a wage. 5) Dogs can be a potentially very effective and cheap form of livestock protection.

Farmers have been fighting an ever existing war  (with traditional management methods – usually killing) against predators for hundreds of years. With all the human knowledge and technology they have not yet overcome one of the biggest problems for livestock protection. In the natural environment where species interact in a biodiverse ecosystem, void of any human interference, co-existence takes place continuously from the top predators on the ecological pyramid to the lowest producers. Perhaps we as humans should reconsider, and place more emphasis on researching coyote ecology and behavior, and livestock farm management techniques, pursuing the goal of co-existence with other species and competing carnivores (including the coyotes).  I am not mentioning the loss or reduction in livestock production nor lowered profit goals for livestock producers, I am just suggesting tolerance, understanding and compassion for other living species – such as the coyote. I feel that with careful consideration we can  reduce coyote  numbers naturally, not with force, aggression and vengeance, but with complete understanding. Even with all our onslaught on coyotes, they still seem to have the ‘upper-hand’; and human behavior (management methods included) also still seems to favor their increase in numbers.

According to Wade (1982), restrictions on other livestock damage control methods have led to increased efforts in the USA to utilize exclusion fences for the protection of livestock from coyotes, and other meso-predator species. Wade (1982) also found that coyote-proof fencing, resembling jackal-proof fencing, would be very efficient at controlling coyote predation on livestock in smaller acreage, but not economical nor practical on larger acreage. This was due to the critical need for sound construction and maintenance (Wade, 1982) for maximum effectiveness, besides actual damage due to weather conditions. Rodents and other burrowing animals may be  able to breach the fence allowing easier passage for coyotes from one side to the other. Natural forces such as soil slides, erosion, windstorms, or tornadoes could potentially cause breaks, which would need rapid repairing, but these are relatively uncommon occurrences.

Tests for different fencing designs were carried out by Lantz (1905) and Jardine (1908, 1909, 1910) in the USA, with results indicating that they would be sufficient to exclude coyotes. The US Department of Agriculture (1909) reported that experimental use of coyote-proof fencing of 2560 acres in Northeastern Oregon was highly successful in protecting ewes and lambs from coyote predation. This obviously gave advantages results of no livestock loses to coyotes, increased lamb weights, and more efficient use and carrying capacity of the range (Wade, 1982).

These positive result’s, from different research on different fencing designs, to prevent coyotes gaining access to livestock continued into the late 1970’s and 1980’s. Sands (1977), de Calesta and Cropsey (1978) and Thompson (1979) concluded that although construction costs of fences were high, they were effective in excluding most coyotes (Wade, 1982). Properly designed minimal electric fencing in combination with coyote-proof fencing can very effectively protect sheep from coyotes (Gates, 1978).

Opposition and concerns to most forms of fencing, other than private land and livestock owners with construction costs and maintenance time, seems to come from wildlife and conservation agencies such as the US Wildlife Society, Bureau of Land Management, and Game & Fish Departments, whom vigorously oppose such fencing on privately owned land where they could restrict free movement of pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana), elk (Cervus canadensis) or other wild species (Wade, 1982). These agencies were also concerned with the visual impact of fences and the need for recommendations for aesthetic criteria to be established.

I feel, taking all these considerations into account that coyote-proof fencing in the United States, like jackal-proof fencing in South Africa, would be an overall viable, economically feasible (with government assistance), practical solution in the long run. It would minimize livestock damage from coyotes (or other predators) and reduce coyote population numbers (therefore non-invasively increase population control), especially in problem areas; included with simultaneous sound, overhauled livestock management techniques. Preventing the old and present invasive empowerment methods of killing and abuse. This would help considerably to pursue the worldwide holistic management approach to ‘problem animals’.

Brent Frankland


Jackal Proof Fence Designs


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