An ‘itch to kill’: Undercover at wildlife killing contests in Nevada
Earlier this month, our Nevada state director Rebecca Goff and others testified at the Assembly Natural Resources Committee hearing in support of a bill in Nevada (A.B. 102) that would end cruel, unsporting and ecologically destructive wildlife killing contests in the Silver State. An end to these contests can’t come soon enough for the wild animals routinely slaughtered because of them, as two of our recent undercover investigations show.
In January at the Cold Springs Station Overnight Coyote Derby in Fallon, Nevada, our undercover investigator witnessed a display of abject cruelty and disregard for animal life. The participants competed in categories for the greatest weight of four animals killed, the biggest coyote, the smallest coyote and the “lucky loser,” given to a team with no kills. At the weigh-in, where around 60 coyotes were piled onto a truck bed, participants cut slits in the dead coyotes’ legs to hang them upside down for weighing. Competitors dragged bodies along the ground and flung them into trucks. The pavement was soaked in blood.
One attendee told the investigator that he killed three coyotes but chose not to retrieve the bodies because they were in deep mud. When asked why he participates in killing contests, another participant said: “Being able to shoot as many as I f****** want. And kill s***. The itch to kill something. Better than people.” A third individual said he used a thermal imaging scope to kill a coyote who weighed just 12 pounds. He said the coyote was “right underneath him” and “looking right at” him. Smiling and imitating a shot at very close range, he said, “it was like shooting a f****** weenie dog.”
Two participants told the investigator that killing animals on federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management is a regular occurrence during these events, even though contest rules stated that the organizer did not have a Special Recreation Permit. During this event, the investigator witnessed an individual looking for coyotes on federal land.
Thirty-two teams competed at the 9th Annual Coyote Ball in Reno, Nevada, in mid-January. Dozens of coyotes were killed, with the winning team shooting 11 of them. At the weigh-in, the coyotes’ blood ran along a gutter, and one person exclaimed, “The blood will flow!” Participants told the investigator that they use night vision and thermal imaging scopes to kill the animals. They drive from location to location, using electronic calling devices that mimic the sounds of coyote pups or prey in distress, to lure coyotes near the truck.
This gruesome activity is neither good family fun nor a wholesome tradition. It’s wanton behavior that sends the message to youth that Nevada’s native wild animals are nothing more than disposable pieces in a game for prizes.
Nevadans care about wildlife. The “America’s Wildlife Values Report” shows that twice as many Nevadans believe humans should do their best to coexist with wildlife than state residents who believe that wildlife should be used and managed for human benefit. Just 3.4% of Nevadans are licensed hunters, and most hunters don’t participate in killing contests. And a recent study by researchers at Ohio State University found that between 1978 and 2014 the public’s positive attitudes toward coyotes—the most frequent target of killing contests—grew by 47% and showed most respondents expressing positive attitudes toward coyotes.
Research finds that indiscriminate coyote killing, such as occurs during killing contests, serves no legitimate wildlife management function. Nor do wildlife killing contests reduce coyote populations in the long run, prevent livestock conflicts or boost game species numbers. In fact, killing contests can increase conflicts and increase coyote populations by disrupting the coyote pack structure.
The few proponents of wildlife killing contests try to argue that they are wholesome outdoor recreational activities. But what our undercover investigations show time and again, in state after state, is a competition that smacks of blatant disregard for animals and ecosystems, an attitude taught to the children who sometimes attend. To claim that a ban on killing contests is an attempt to chip away at rural culture is a red herring designed to divide us. Most people—whether they live in urban, suburban or rural areas—do not support cruel, unsporting or wasteful activities like this. It’s time to outlaw wildlife killing contests in Nevada and in the 41 other states that still allow them.
Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.
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