More mangy coyotes
A large coyote hunt recently held in Southwest North Dakota turned up more coyotes with mange, something the North Dakota Game and Fish Department attributes to a higher coyote population.
Stephanie Tucker, a furbearer biologist for the NDGF, said North Dakota has had high coyote numbers the last few years.
With a little help from rural mail carriers, the last official survey done on coyote populations was in April.
"Mail carriers who deliver mail out in the rural areas are asked to record the numbers and species of animals they are seeing a couple times a year," Tucker said.
The survey showed the highest coyote numbers in the last 18 years, Tucker said.
Mange is always present in coyote populations, but some years it is more prevalent than others, Tucker said.
"The more dense the population is the chance that mange will probably come on a little bit stronger and then once the density of coyotes drops again ... mange will probably drop too," Tucker said. "It's been in North Dakota since coyotes have been in North Dakota."
Dr. Dan Grove, wildlife veterinarian for the NDGF, said mange is a mite that lives and eats at the base of the hair follicle and coyotes can transfer mange between each other through direct contact.
Jamie Olson, organizer of the North Dakota Coyote Classic, a two-day coyote hunt recently held in Dickinson and dubbed as one of the top in the nation, said 21 percent of the coyotes harvested at this year's hunt "were mangy," the highest number the hunt has seen in eight years.
"In year's past, we've always been right around 12 percent," Olson said.
A calling-style tournament, the event is organized into teams of two and whoever brings back the most coyotes at the tournament's end wins.
With six less teams participating, Olson said this year also produced the highest number of coyote sightings, at 662 versus 440 last year with less teams.
Olson said officials should be concerned with the percentage of the population that has mange, not sheer numbers.
"In recent years, an outbreak of mange had reduced the population size of coyotes by half," according to the NDGF Web site.
While the animals can be treated for mange, the fur and hide is never the same afterwards, Tucker said.
"In North Dakota what typically happens is the mite gets so bad and the hair loss is so bad that they can't thermal-regulate in the winter," Tucker said.
Extensive hair loss causes many of the coyotes afflicted with mange to freeze to death.
"The mite makes them itch so bad and so they scratch and they bite and things like that and they cause really bad infections all over their body," Tucker said. "They get big crusty spots and hair loss and stuff like that."
Grove said another reason for coyote death due to mange is the time they spend itching and scratching.
"They spend so much time itching and scratching that they're not able to perform their normal functions of hunting and obtaining food," Groves said.