Dogfighting and cockfighting are illegal in the US, but until Wednesday, coyotes could be shot dead for a belt buckle in California. Animal activists are celebrating the ruling by the California Fish and Game Commission against wildlife-killing contests that offer prizes, said to be the first such ban in the country, the AP reports. According to the mandate, no one can shoot dead a coyote, fox, bobcat, or other predator for any kind of reward, though people can still shoot these animals as part of a regular hunting routine. "Contest kills" involve competitors vying for cash or other prizes and "treat these living animals as disposable game pieces," says the Humane Society. Many ranchers disagree: They blame the majority of their livestock deaths on coyotes, which the California Cattlemen's Association says number 700,000 in that state alone, per the San Francisco Chronicle.
Encouraging such competitive hunts simply helps them manage the population, the ranchers contend. But conservationists say that management plan doesn't have science to back it up: When coyote pack leaders (usually the only males that mate) are killed, all the other males that don't usually breed step up to the plate and cause exponential population growth. Add that fact to the accidental killing of migrating wolves in the area (wolves are often mistaken for coyotes) and a game warden who was injured during a fox-and-coyote hunt on Valentine's Day to make the activity unconscionable to activists. "Killing coyotes or any wild animal as part of a contest or tournament is ethically indefensible, ecologically reckless, and counter to sound science," the executive director of Project Coyote tells the Chronicle.