Project Coyote posted this tonight — the photo below — a visual heartbreak from Salmon, Idaho, where a pro-hunting group with the euphemistic name, Idaho for Wildlife, sponsored a shooting derby for coyotes and wolves. Wolves escaped the bloodshed this time, but the photo below shows the wretched outcome for the coyotes. It’s a vile and vivid illustration of the killing contest — a practice that occurs repeatedly in our country despite its unfathomable savagery.
In one single frame, this image expresses the entirety of what happens when we hand over the lives of wild animals to those who clearly have no business with that degree of responsibility or power … those without scruples and those who blight our humanness through their own inhumanity. These stacked and bloodied bodies were, just hours ago, the lives of our North American song dogs. They are many lives, extinguished and discarded like carpet remnants for a $1000 prize.
The coyote’s true existence is characterized by intelligence, playfulness, family cohesion and ecological importance. Coyotes are mythical in tribal history — heroes or anti-heroes, tricksters or teachers. In these stories, they race with clouds, end winters and famines, and fall hopelessly in love with the stars. But for all of their mysticism, coyotes long ago fell prey to barbarism as human settlement swept across the west, bringing with it domesticated animals, barbed wire, ignorance and persecution. Coyotes are demonized for their natural behavior, and ignored for the benefits and balance they bring to their biological niche.
I’ve said before that wildlife laws are inadequate to protect the well-being of animals like these coyotes who already bear the weight of human vendetta. The North American wildlife model is cited consistently as a program of success, but it’s also a paradigm stuck in time — where wildlife in our public trust is treated as a renewable resource to be “harvested,” with little consideration for the more progressive ideas of compassion, coexistence and sentience.
My experience in the field has turned my stomach and heart more than once, for the cruelty I’ve witnessed. There is no sugar-coating the violence implicit in shooting animals for sport. It’s a brutality exercised simply because some living beings bear the scarlet letter (or word rather) that we’ve assigned to them: “game.” The most egregious treatment, however, tends to fall upon animals like coyotes who are too often labeled as pests. The term “pest” or varmint is a slanderous idea in itself, demonizing a species for how its presence inconveniences humans instead of respecting the animal for his or her inherent and ecological value. Labeling any species as a pest exacerbates its vulnerability in a legal and cultural environment where here is little recourse to prevent outright abuse.
I collected some quotes from predator hunters in an earlier post (In Their Own Words) — and I’ve documented similarly callous attitudes toward birds and other wildlife. As long as these backward ideas persist and prevail, it will always be wild animals who bear the brunt of this malice. This weekend, sadly, that malice led to the unforgivable slaughter pictured here — the lives of our North American song dogs stolen, wasted and wiped out for a misguided sense of enjoyment, ownership, stupidity and greed.
There is so much injustice toward wildlife, so much to correct and compensate for as humans move toward a more enlightened understanding of other species and their rightful entitlement on this planet. At the very least, our culture ought to be tormented by the vestiges of this 19th-century extermination ethic. But at best, we’d be moved to reconsider the entire legal framework that allows for such atrocities, whether in the context of a two-day shooting contest, a winter trapline, or an open season on animals whose single misfortune is in trying to survive alongside us human beings.
Photo courtesy of Project Coyote — thank you for all you do to end the suffering.
If you’re not familiar with Project Coyote, you can read about their mission at the website and on their Facebook page. Project Coyote is promoting models of non-lethal coexistence between humans and non-humans. And, they are asking people to share this image, to help bring awareness to these wildlife killing contests, some of which are upcoming in the months ahead. Project Coyote was also part of a coalition to stop this Idaho contest legally, a request denied by the judge. (The New York Times posted an editorial in opposition to this practice on Friday in Wolf Haters.)