Rodenticides and Your Relationship with Carnivores

Reader Contribution by Geri Vistein
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 Photo by Ellison Photography

We share the planet with all life; for we are not here alone. And so our actions and behaviors affect the lives of the other living beings who share the Earth with us…who share your farm with you.  And what happens to them, affects us as well.

In my last blog, I wrote about what the Coyotes on your farm ask of you ~ understanding and allowing them to live stable lives. That understanding helps you to keep your farm animals safe.

But what we often do not think of regarding the stability of wild carnivores’ lives, is how our behaviors might affect their health. We live in a world where poisons have been accepted as the answerfor anything in our environment that we wish to rid ourselves of.  There has been no regard for the larger picture of the community of life. Individuals who earn their living as “exterminators” or “pest control specialists” succeed by using dangerous poisons manufactured by large chemical companies. But they are not alone, for anyone can purchase poisons to kill rats and rodents in their environment.  

Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring alerted our society of the dangerous effects of lethal poisons, not only to ourselves and our children but to all other life. Note that our great raptors like eagles were almost lost to us because of the deleterious effects of DDT. Why then are poisons still the answerto our relationship with other lives? Would it be that we do not observe firsthand the suffering it costs?


Photo by Tim Springer

Most people do not observe the devastating effects poisons have on the very carnivores, who are so capable of controlling rodent populations on our planet. Anticoagulant rat poisons(often called second generation) are used freely, and remain in the rodent’s body at high levels, as they slowly bleed to death. While they are still alive, carnivores like coyotes, cougars, bobcats, foxes and birds of prey like eagles and owls hunt for them….and consume them. And with every poisoned rodent a carnivore consumes, the carnivore is slowly poisoned as well.


 Photo by Dean Searle

Carnivores have powerful immune systems that help them live their wild lives, but with the ever increasing amount of poisons in their body, their immune system is suppressed. Diseases they would otherwise be able to overcome, take over their bodies and cause their death.

One such painful affliction we are observing more and more is mange, in which parasitic mites enter the skin and cause intense itching, leading to open wounds and infection. Along with this, the parasites attack their hair follicles and cause the carnivore to lose much or all of their fur. Mange is most often fatal either because of severe infection and/or the carnivore’s inability to hunt due to weakness and suffering, or they freeze to death in the winter. It is a slow, painful death.

Scientists have observed that when carnivores are so sick, they will tend to come closer to human habitation because they may find easier food…for they are too sick to hunt.

You want to have healthy Coyotes and other carnivores on your farm? Allow your carnivores to do rodent patrol!

Geri Vistein is a conservation biologist whose work focuses on carnivores and our human relationships with them. In addition to research and collaboration with fellow biologists in Maine, she educates communities about carnivores and how we can coexist with them. You can find her at Coyote Lives in Maine, and read all of Geri’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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