This week I had the opportunity to ride along with a young trapper who traps a couple hundred coyotes every year in the large wooded pastures and the CRP fields of central Kansas. Mange is a disease often found on wild coyotes caught by Kansas trappers, and he told me that over one-fourth of his catch has had mange the past few years. He talked about catching fifteen coyotes at one spot this year that all had mange so badly some could barely stand as he approached them.
After a discussion with my wife during which I whole-heartedly disputed a story she had heard about mange being intentionally introduced, I did some research. I found story-after-story and record-after-record verifying that fact. Between 1883 and 1918, Montana paid over $340,000 in bounties for the killing of more than 80,000 wolves. Seeking a cheaper method of control, for wolves and coyotes, a 1905 Montana law provided for the capture of a number of wild wolves and coyotes that were intentionally infected with Sarcoptic mange and released back into the wild. We will probably never know for sure if mange found in Kansas coyotes still lingers from that event.
Sarcoptic Mange is a disease found in canines, both wild and domestic, caused by Sarcoptic Mites. These parasitic mites burrow into the skin, causing intense scratching and resulting hair loss, weakness and very possibly death as the infected animal loses most or all of its fur and becomes too weak to hunt. The hair loss usually begins on the tail and hind legs then slowly works its way across the animal’s entire body. I have caught coyotes with mange so badly their tails were mere sticks with no fur at all. Mange is highly treatable in domestic canines but obviously not in wild foxes, wolves and coyotes, thus it can wreak havoc with wild populations. It’s not entirely known what kind of survival rate to expect, but that seems to be highly determined by winter conditions in the area. Last year I had a couple coyotes on which the fur buyer pointed out to me spots around their necks where the fur was very thin. One of his explanations was that the animals were possibly just recovering from mange. Our local conservation officer pointed out to me that despite some periods of frigid temperatures and a few snow storms, the last several winters have been fairly mild here in Kansas, possible allowing some infected animals to survive. It’s also thought that young coyote pups contracting mange will most certainly die. Mange is very transmittable from one animal to another, and the higher the wild population of that particular species, the more chances to transmit the disease. Coyotes are very family-oriented canines and live in family groups, so the mites have ample opportunities to spread throughout the family group.
Human infections of mange are extremely rare and short lived and are easily treated medically. Also, mange from wildlife very rarely transfers to domestic animals or livestock. Despite the rare likelihood of transmission, hunters and trappers should handle infected animals with gloves and should throw away or disinfect those gloves afterward. Carcasses of dead mange-infected animals can be buried or burned, or at very least left someplace where dogs or wild canines will not feed on them.
Most people take a dim view of coyotes because they can be such ruthless predators, so when trappers talk of disease problems among the coyote population most folks barely bat an eye. As stated above, the larger the coyote population, the easier it is for disease to get a foothold. Trapping is proven to be a very effective tool in controlling predator populations, and thus helping to control diseases. Besides, as a trapper I like trying to match wits with the wily buggers!
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]