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 with Rob Miskosky

The Ugly Killer Mange

We were set up along a fence line that ran directly to a farmer’s snow-covered field. Good friend Ken Colwill was watching to the west, I had the east covered. With the electronic call positioned 30 yards away, I punched in my intended sound—a cottontail rabbit in distress—and then pushed the start button. Immediately a horrifying sound began emanating from the unit’s speakers.

Letting the call really work up the sound, Ken and I both watched intensely for signs of our intended target. Suddenly, as can so often happen when coyote hunting, a big dog was on top of us before we knew it and a much-too hurried shot allowed him to vacate the premises as fast as he appeared.

Soon we were set up once again and this time Ken was the shooter. We both watched from a small hill that bordered a narrow draw before the same field. Once again, the electronic call worked its magic and another coyote suddenly appeared below us. Ken took aim and dropped it on the spot.

Upon inspection, the small female had little hair left on her chest and belly and one leg was infected. We had stolen another victim from sarcoptic mange, perhaps even sparing the mangy coyote a long and painful winter.

This coyote is badly infected with sarcoptic mange and most likely died shortly after this photo was taken. Infected animals shouldn’t be handled.    - Andrew McInnes photo
Sarcoptic mange is one of those nasty wildlife diseases that trappers and coyote hunters often come into contact with. Not literally, of course, at least I hope not. However, where coyotes are concerned, sarcoptic mange is quite often very common in Alberta.  

A few years ago, I spent considerable time trapping for three farmers in the Chip Lake area west of Edmonton. Two of them were cattle ranchers while the other invested his time in sheep. All three despised coyotes with a passion and they wanted them all dead... no exceptions. If memory serves, one of the farmers had such distaste for coyotes—and wolves—that if he could, he would happily hang a coyote on a hook and torture it if given half the chance. He despised them so because one of his cows had once managed to get stuck in some deep mud along the bed of a small lake on his property. In the cows struggle to free itself, it had alerted coyotes in the area to its presence. According to the farmer, they killed it as it stood there in the mud, unable to free itself. He later pulled out the carcass with his tractor.

But as nasty as this farmer’s intolerance was toward coyotes, Mother Nature appears to have the upper hand in the cruelty department.

During my time trapping for these farmers, much to their delight, I managed to kill several coyotes. However, for every 10 coyotes I managed to catch, four would be worthless, as mange was very prevalent in the area at that time. In my opinion, 40% of the coyotes that I caught there were badly diseased with mange.

While sarcoptic mange isn’t the coyote’s nemesis alone, it can develop into what scientists call epizootic, meaning it spreads quickly among certain animals (epidemic) and coyotes, among wolves and foxes, are at the top of that list in Alberta. Although personally I have yet to witness its (mange) presence on any creature other than a coyote.

I would suggest, however, that during my time trapping near Chip Lake, sarcoptic mange was definitely at the epizootic or enzootic (localized) stage, one of the two for sure. I am unaware if it is still prevalent in that region today, but chances are it is still there to one degree or another.

Mange is caused by a burrowing mite known as Sarcoptes scabiei that consumes the living cells and tissue fluid of its host. In time, the host will experience intense itching that it must attend to. This attention is generally what creates the lesions so commonly seen on an infected animal.

Eventually, the skin thickens, becomes grey, hairless, and crusted. This crusted skin will break open, hemorrhage and the host can become emaciated and dehydrated, eventually dying. Due to hair loss, weather conditions in Alberta often cause hypothermia in infected hosts. In this instance, the animal will also die.

Studies have shown that epizootic occurrences of sarcoptic mange may have an effect on localized populations, but long-term effects on coyote populations are likely non-existent.

I found it interesting that the mite responsible for mange was actually introduced to North America in the early 1900s as a biological control for wolves. An introduction that simply did not work, as these mites are as adaptable as their hosts are.

So, what to do should you come across an infected coyote, wolf or fox during hunting or trapping activities? Those burrowing mites can infect humans (known as scabies), but the symptoms are generally nothing more than a mild itchy rash that is short-lived. However, to stay safe and avoid that aggravation, if you need to handle an infected animal, rubber gloves and protective wear should be worn and all exposed parts of your skin should avoid any contact with the infected host.

Sarcoptic mange is a nasty disease. In fact, it really is the ugly killer; leaving its telltale sign on its victims before slowly killing them in a long drawn out death. Not all animals will die once infected, but often the end result sides with those burrowing mites.

The coyote faces many challenges in its daily fight for survival, and it has become known as the “continental survivor” for good reason. Sarcoptic mange is but another obstacle in that survival fight. ■

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