Detrimental Effects of Radio Collars

The once happy-go-lucky coyote is now wounded 

I cried when I next saw the coyote pictured above. She had more wounds and was thin and frail looking. Only a month ago she was so infectiously happy — she brought joy to all who observed her. This is the coyote who was displaced from her own territory by another coyote a month ago, on February 5th. She returned several times, but the newcomer’s presence drove her away each time. Her appearance and demeanor reflect her story: The fur around her entire neck has been pulled and torn — it’s damp from oozing. Through the fur you can see the injuries on her neck front, with a flap of skin hanging down. On the side of her neck is another deep gash. Her legs are covered with wounds. Her face, as you can see here, has a number of lacerations.

Everyone who knows this gal knows her upbeat personality. She’s good-willed towards everyone: people and dogs. She has always been sprightly and playful, even as a loner, and when a male arrived she was welcoming, loving and playful with him — incredibly so, to the joy and amazement of all onlookers. Then the intruder came in, displaced her, and, in short, put a crimp in everything she had going for her. Nature is nature, and we have to accept that: that coyotes have their own internal affairs to work out. BUT here there was human involvement which needs to be examined.

About the Intruder: We know the intruder had been wandering about for the last little while because she ended up in the Presidio where she was nabbed and radio-collared on January 3rd, even though she was not an inhabitant of that park. At the time she was collared, she was deemed 2+ years of age. And that’s all you need to know about her to understand this story.

Let’s talk about the radio-collar on that intruder. First note that, although there are wounds on our coyote’s legs, face and head, the majority of deep wounds sustained by her are on and around her neck. That’s one of the places where coyotes attack. So you can be sure that’s where our coyote, too, tried attacking her opponent. But the intruder/opponent had been outfitted with armor: the large impenetrable radio-collar which interfered with the bites to those places — bites meant to defend her territory — that our coyote tried to inflict. The intruder was thus protected and came to the fight with a huge advantage. What does this say about radio-collaring? It says that this human-made gadget — and humans are very fond of their “gadgets” — which a human forcibly attaches to animals for our human convenience, is changing the outcome of lives — it’s interfering where we should not be interfering. Is “science” more important than the animals being studied? The scientists using the collars of course aren’t going to say anything negative about them. But other people have been writing about this:

“Being chased [. . . or trapped, then wrestled to the ground], then waking up tagged or collared, is by no means voluntary on the part of wildlife and has not only physical concequences, but traumatic psychological effects on the victim. For instance, a wild wolves often show symptoms of PTSD up to a year after being helicopter darted and collared. Whales become reluctant to approach whale watching boats when “researchers” move in and begin “tagging” them. Etc. http://goodnature.nathab.com/animal-privacy-rights-monitoring-wildlife-out-of-existence/

Ear-tags and radio-collars are used in the Presidio, a federal park in the NW corner of San Francisco. We should be concerned about these gadgets we are attaching to animals for our benefit, because they certainly are not helping the animals. In the first place, capturing the animal for this purpose is a terrifying experience for every animal. Coyotes are wary of humans and won’t let anyone get close to them. For them, capturing them must be a “leading to death” experience.

The ear tags: Two 1″ plastic disks are placed on the fur on the inner and outer side of the ear, so this includes the side where sound waves enter the ear. No one is going to tell me that this doesn’t alter sounds, especially for ears as sensitive as a coyote’s. Sound is normally helped by passing over their natural fur, not a piece of plastic. That’s just the sound-wave angle. More on animal hearing.

The plastic hardware itself can be irritating and can also pick up and harbor bugs, especially ticks — one of the insects that plague coyotes the most as I’ve written about — and neither the coyote, nor her mate who often helps with the grooming, has any way to reach under those tags to get them off. Infections can be caused by the piercing of the ear, just as they do in human piercings, except that coyotes aren’t monitored for this. A friend of mine saw a coyote with an infected ear caused by a tag.

In addition, I’ve been told by several behaviorists that animals may shun/reject other animals who are strangely marked (or deformed). I wonder if ear-tags and collars would have this effect?

The collars. These things are not only heavy, they are bulky and cumbersome. I’ve seen coyotes attempt to shake off a collar, either because of it’s cumbersome size and weight around their necks, or because of the irritations caused by the collar itself: abrasions, grit, bugs. These are not domestic animals, so much more gets lodged behind their collars than what we see on our dogs. Ticks love to hide on dog ears and under dog collars — the same would be true for coyotes.

Attempting to shake off the collar

But, FOREMOST, a collar can actually change the outcome of coyotes’ lives, for instance, the outcome of a territorial dispute, which is what was involved here. I’ve seen plenty of territorial disputes, but inevitably, it’s the territorial owner who is able to drive out the intruder, not the other way around unless the owners have become old and feeble. Our coyote was in the prime of life, four years old. She could/should easily have driven the intruder away. She herself was wounded severely ON THE NECK, where coyotes intentionally inflict damage. If our coyote tried this tactic on the other coyote, which I’m sure she did, she got a mouth full of hard radio and hard collar. The radio-collar provided armor and a huge advantage to the intruder. The intruder was left unscathed by all appearances. When our coyote returned again to wrestle back her turf, she was met with the same disadvantaged circumstances, and more wounds to herself.

Large plastic ear-tags and a bulky radio contraption shackled to her neck

Radio collars might be deemed a necessary evil for particular studies — their use should be extremely limited. But they are not needed for “management”, which is what they are purportedly being used for in the Presidio. “Management” requires one thing alone: educating the public to walk away from coyotes and keep their dogs away from them. Coyotes naturally avoid humans unless they are being fed or befriended. Signs, literature, talks are what is needed. Whether or not coyotes are radio-collared, the public will still need to KNOW what to do if they encounter a coyote: they need to walk away from a coyote. Coyotes can move about quickly, so no map is going to show where coyotes are at any particular time. When dens have been discovered and cordoned off to protect coyotes and dogs from each other, it has more often than not been done after the den was inadvertently discovered by the public. Additional management can be added on a case-to-case basis in the few instances when it is necessary.

By the way, coyotes will not over-populate any given area — this is because they self-regulate their population through their territorial imperatives. So collars are not needed for population management. The collars are used only to track movements. Since we now know coyotes general movements within the Presidio, and even out of the Presidio to Los Gatos, why are we continuing to collar them?

See also: For sage grouse, science can be fatal.


Addendum from a comment I made on FBI concur that most “scientists” are out to help the animals, even though I know multiple instances of where the “information” is considered more important than the animal. As I said above, learning from a minimal amount of collaring could be useful.

But where there are other means, collaring shouldn’t be done because of collateral effects. A researcher’s “good intentions” aren’t enough. Good intentions are often harmful: for instance, feeding wildlife. Collaring is not a benign thing. There are too many things we DON’T know about these animals to be shackling them with our gadgets unless absolutely necessary, and even then it should be minimally. Did you read the article on hearing linked above? There are a lot of things about animals that humans simply don’t have any comprehension about, and that’s because we ourselves are limited by our five senses, and we tend to use ourselves as the gold standard — until we’re surprised, for instance, that elephants can hear clouds. Also, radio telemetry does not reveal their interpersonal behaviors. What I observed in this posting probably goes on a lot — it wasn’t just a one-time fluke that I just happened to see — but few scientists actually spend huge amounts of time watching coyote behavior, which is what it takes: they like their instruments, their data, and crunching numbers.

This article was written to let all those folks with good intentions know that they may be creating more harm than they can imagine, specifically with radio-collars. So please use them sparingly, and only if you really have to.