Should Maine Be Concerned Over Wildlife Diseases From Overblown Populations of Coyotes?

By • Oct 5th, 2011 • Category: News

A very popular website, “As Maine Goes”, recently headlined a story, “Coyotes: Good or Bad for Maine?“. The last time I checked there were 6 pages of discussion on the topic. Missing from those pages was any discussion about diseases carried by coyotes.

We know from previous studies that Maine’s coyote population, arguably numbering in the tens of thousands, is a hybrid of wolf, coyote and domestic dog, along with mixes of the mixes. Regardless, canines are known to carry as many as 30 diseases, many of them harmful and/or fatal to humans.

Most people, including doctors and veterinarians, disregard any serious threat from wild canines but that was before proliferating populations of coyotes have encroached into the back yards of people all across the Maine landscape. Recent tests and studies have found a couple of incidences that should give Maine people and hopefully our fish and game, conservation, health, and agriculture departments, along with veterinarians, reason to reconsider their attitudes toward wild canine diseases.

In Idaho, in 2006, tests on dead wolves revealed that two-thirds of those animals carried the tapeworm echinococcus granulosus (EG). Just recently, 5 wolves that were killed by government trappers were also tested and 4 of the 5 wolves tested positive with 2 of them reported to be heavily infested.

Canines are a definitive host and the eggs from EG can be easily spread through the feces of the wild dogs. Other animals such as Maine’s whitetail deer and moose ingest the eggs by browsing in areas where EG-infected scat exists. While in the past, this probably could be disregarded as a threat to humans because seldom did humans and coyotes/wolves interact, things have changed.

For those with pets that run free, they can, through rolling in or eating infected carrion, bring the eggs home on their fur or in their mouths. The tapeworm eggs get into their feces the same as wild canines. Consider the close contact you and your children have with your family dog. This is a critical reason to keep your pets vaccinated and de-wormed.

As populations of coyotes continue to grow, more and more “encounters” are bound to happen, with coyotes visiting your front and back yards on a regular basis, often leaving their feces as a welcoming gift. Infected coyotes will deposit tens to thousands of eggs in their feces. People can step in it and track it into the house, pets can roll in it, the possibilities are endless.

When humans breathe in or ingest the eggs, over time these eggs can cause cysts. This form of the disease is called hydatid cysts or hydatid disease. Diagnosis is difficult but more frighteningly doctors are not looking for this disease. It is often not discovered until something happens that causes a cyst to rupture. This event alone can cause death.

Humans can ingest or inhale the spore-like eggs in a number of ways. The tiny eggs can easily become airborne. Never kick or prod into a wild canine pile of scat, as many inquisitive people do, to determine what they are eating. Doing so could send a cloud of spores into the air causing you to breathe them in.

These spores can also be in water supplies and survive for a long period of time. Know your water source. Eating wild berries is frowned upon as well.

What is important to understand here is that these and more are practices we all should take when we know these diseases are present. We don’t know that they are but then we don’t test for them either. Maine needs to become proactive and not reactive in this effort.

Idaho has 6 known cases of human contracted hydatid disease.

A second disease that is growing more common along with growing populations of wild canines is neospora caninum (NC). This disease can cause sudden aborting of livestock fetuses. This of course could be devastating to any livestock owners and industry and threatens our food supply.

NC is spread in much the same way as EG and it has only been discovered recently through tests that not only do wild canines spread this disease, so too do feral hogs and can be passed on to ungulates, i.e. deer, moose, elk, sheep, etc.

Perhaps it is time to shift the focus of discussion of canine predators to one of concern for disease and public safety than as to whether or not coyotes deserve to be a protected species.

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One Response »

  1. I blast ‘em every chance I get when I’m hunting in the woods. Blam! Blam! BLAM!!!!

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