Published 8:25 am Saturday, May 30, 2009
NEWSOMS—When Jenny Bunn looked out her window at about 2:30 one recent afternoon, she got the shock of her life.
An animal had crept within 20 feet of her back door and had turned to walk away. She could see that the animal had something white hanging from its mouth. She looked closer and could see that they were feathers.
Her pet duck, Spencer, was dead and in the jaws of a coyote marching back to the woods.
Bunn got a pistol and darted outside. The coyote had put Spencer’s lifeless body down when she fired her first shot at him.
“He took five steps, and turned around and looked at me,” Bunn said. “He was about 30 feet away. He was not scared of me when I shot at him, not one bit.”
Startled at the lack of fear in the animal before her, Bunn fired a second shot. She didn’t know if either of her shots had hit the coyote, but it turned and made its way toward the woods. The animal’s gait was equally startling.
“He loped,” Bunn said. “He didn’t run. He casually loped away from me, and that is scary.”
Scary because coyotes, scientifically known as canis latrans, are normally elusive and avoid humans, according to information from the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. They can be active at any time of day or night and are most often seen at dawn or dusk.
But coyotes are also opportunistic hunters and will not turn down an easy meal.
That night at dusk, Bunn’s husband, Blair, was outside looking and waiting to see if a dog or coyote was responsible for stirring up his cows and calves, as well as some turkeys that were nearby. At the edge of a pasture, Blair saw a coyote approaching and was able to kill it with a rifle.
According to the DGIF, male coyotes average between 35 and 45 pounds but can weigh as much as 60 pounds. The coyote Blair Bunn killed on May 11 was a male that weighed 64 pounds.
The Bunns, longtime residents of Southampton County, know that occasionally losing livestock to predatory animals is a part of country living. But they say coyotes — animals that are not native to Virginia and have no natural predator besides man — are different, and their frequent sightings are cause for alarm.
“If you live in the country and you have chickens and ducks something is going to get them from time to time,” Blair Bunn said, adding that hawks and foxes are typical culprits. “You try to keep them up from the (predatory) animals that you know are here. You build a pen and try to keep them safe. But with (coyotes), you can’t keep them safe.”
Jenny Bunn concurred. “We protect our stuff,” she said. “We did everything we were supposed to, and that thing still came up here into our back yard.”
Three days later, Jenny Bunn was driving on General Thomas Highway just east of Newsoms when she saw another coyote, this one standing in a field beside the road, perhaps waiting to cross and investigate a herd of cows on the other side of the highway.
Alarmed, she called Blair, who promptly drove out and shot the animal.
Neil Drake of Newsoms has seen coyotes too. He said he saw two coyotes, on separate occasions, while turkey hunting about one mile south of Newsoms during the first week of May.
“You would be surprised how many people see them and think they’re a dog,” Drake said. “They think they’re stray dogs. When I first started seeing them, that’s what I thought I they were. But I came to find out a little later they were coyotes.
“They’re more populated than people think.”
Bounty or no bounty?
According to the DGIF, coyotes were first seen in Virginia in the early 1950s.
“They moved in from the west, the north and the south and probably converged in the mid-Atlantic region,” said DGIF spokesperson Julia Dixon. “They are now in almost every county in Virginia.”
Dixon said coyotes are classified as a nuisance species, and there is an open, continuous hunting season on them. Coyotes may be killed at any time, but not on Sundays.
“They’re a top-of-the-line predator, so we are the predator that would prey on them,” Dixon said.
But according to Dixon, instituting a bounty on coyotes will not solve the problem.
“When you start removing animals from the population, they re-populate faster,” she said. “They just boom — they make up for it. Biologically they fill the void. The female will have more litters and she’ll have bigger litters. So a bounty is not an effective tool for managing their population.”
Greensville County is the only neighboring locality to Southampton, in Virginia and North Carolina, which has a bounty on coyotes, offering $75 per animal. According to animal control officials in Greensville, 38 coyotes were killed there last year.
This creates a new problem, Dixon said.
“We have found that in some areas that have bounties, people will bring coyotes from other localities without bounties to cash in,” Dixon said. “You’re paying for a program that really isn’t having the impact you want at all.”
She added, “If you leave them alone, their population will continue to grow, but not at as fast of a rate as removing the animals. The best tool we have is to have them classified as nuisance species and try and to continue to remove animals from the population.”
Blair Bunn disagrees.
“If there was a bounty, I think that would add some incentive to people to try to get rid of them if they see them,” he said. “If you’re going to pay somebody to kill a coyote, there are people that are going to try to get them. It’s a good thing because the coyotes people are going to get are the ones that are not scared (of people), are aggressive, and highly visible, coming around houses and places they shouldn’t be.”
He added, “You’re not going to get rid of all of them. But you can get rid of the potential problem animals.”
Education, reporting sightings
Jenny Bunn spoke before the Southampton County Board of Supervisors on Monday to urge officials to make educating the public about coyotes a priority.
“Everyone in this county needs to know, and be aware, that the coyotes are here and they are extremely dangerous,” she said, suggesting that the DGIF set up a booth during Fair Week. “The county is in a position to ask these things of the DGIF. You could even join forces with our surrounding counties to be more persuasive in your request. I’m sure those counties are dealing with the same issues as us.”
Her other suggestions were to have the county school division get involved by educating students, to have the public report sightings to the sheriff’s department, and to have the county animal control officer keep a log of the sightings as well.
The supervisors seemed in agreement on the issue.
“I think they’re becoming more abundant,” said Newsoms Supervisor Walt Brown. “I’ve seen two on my farm in the last six months. We need to make people realize they are here and we have to do things to protect ourselves.”
Franklin Supervisor Walter Young Jr. said he has also seen coyotes.
“I know we’ve seen more in the last month than we’ve ever seen in the area I live in,” Young said. “But we usually don’t get two shots at them.”
Two officials from Southampton County Public Schools — Superintendent Charles Turner and Assistant Superintendent Tim Kelly — were both still present for Jenny Bunn’s remarks to the board, and nodded in agreement with Supervisors Ronald West and Dallas Jones that the school division would do something to educate students about coyotes in the near future.
“Mr. Turner, will you take care of that for us?” Jones asked the superintendent, to which he replied, “Yes sir, absolutely, we would be glad to.”