Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mange. Warning: unpleasantness.

It is estimated that there are approximately 2000 urban coyotes in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. This is a relatively recent phenomenon. Not long ago there were wolves, but as in most other places they disappeared with the arrival of livestock and firearms. There were Red Foxes, of little interest to wolves, and stealthy and harmless enough to co-exist with humans on some level. They outlived the wolves, but the loss of the wolves also ended up contributing to their undoing -- coyotes, who, compared to foxes, are equally or more clever and adaptable, and, no longer suppressed by wolves, moved in -- and the foxes disappeared.

Coyotes live among us. They stroll our parks, and leave their scat smack in the middle of our paths, but aside from the odd human interaction that hits the evening news (a child gets nipped), rarely make it to the consciousness of the general public. But if you keep your eyes open you’ll see them, lurking in the fringes, in open fields, among blackberry hummocks. They’re almost everywhere. They eat almost anything.

Being the default terrestrial apex predator-scavenger-omnivore, they’re important -- and they’re handsome too; it’s a thrill to see them. Which is why I skidded my bike to a stop when I saw one in a vacant lot, a strange heaped-sand desert-scape soon to be 20 condominiums.
My reaction was, “Whoa, coyote!” My stopping drew its attention. I went into fast-fingered mode: Backpack open, camera out, lens cap off, switch on, aim-focus- and click.

It was on the other side of a yellow, wire-mesh fence, a barrier to keep humans out for whatever reason. Sand thieves, perhaps. I shot pictures through the mesh as I approached, trying not to be hit as I crossed the road, and was deciphering through the viewfinder as I clicked: too small, too skinny, too…. hairless. This was a sick doggie. I stepped through a wide gap in the fence. (When is fence not much of a fence?) The coyote loped ahead, turned and looked, CLICK, again ahead, turn and look, CLICK, I lowered the camera to really see it. It was horrifically, heart-breakingly mangy.

Most likely it was infected with the mange mite, Sarcoptes scabiei, which burrows into the top layers of skin. The female deposits eggs in the burrow. Larvae, nymphs and adults all live within the skin, creating horrendous itching and a dramatic allergic reaction, which causes yet more itching. Through direct damage by the mites, allergic response, and the scratching activity of the infected host, hair is lost in affected areas, often starting with the tail and legs and moving forward. It can lead death by hypothermia due to loss of fur, but also can cause a general degradation of all aspects of health and basic function, which probably explains why I was able to get so close to this animal.

The Sarcoptes mite is widespread in North America, but one source suggested it was intentionally introduced into western North America (Montana) in the early 1900s to control wolves, what may have seemed a good idea at the time. The mites are not particularly host-specific, at least within host families (a dog is a dog is a dog) , and occurs in all three of British Columbia‘s wild dogs.

The coyote is looking back at me, not knowing what I’m doing. I’m feeling bad is what I’m doing, stunned by how rapidly a moment of exhilaration spiralled into revulsion and pity.

Now that I’ve ruined your brunch, see a beautiful wild dog at Swamp Things.


Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...


BerryBird said...

So sad.

Chrisss said...

Awww poor thing...he's pitiful looking. Not only does he have enough problems with the mange, now his hunting grounds will be taken over by 20 condos...