Illegal Fox-Coyote Use

By Ed Park

Major investigations are in progress in several states, in the Southeast and elsewhere, about foxhound training facilities that are being run illegally with imported foxes and coyotes. The emphasis of the investigations centers on the illegal selling, buying, transporting and possession of game animals; inhumane treatment of captive animals; and serious health concerns related to the possible spreading of diseases and parasites from region to region.

All of these illegal movements also hint at one possible cause of the unexplained, rapid increases in coyote numbers in many Southeastern states.

For those unfamiliar with foxhound training facilities (commonly called fox pens), we must point out that they are completely legal in several states, and that most facilities are run legally and ethically. A few don't play by the rules and these few are the objects of interest.

Fox pens range in size and are regulated by state laws. Information received from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) show that state's licensed facilities range from 100 to 950 acres. High, fox-proof fences enclose those acreages. Within those pens are escape cages where the animals can go to get away from the hounds. Foxes and coyotes that have been released into the large pens are then pursued by foxhounds, to help train those hounds.

One thing that alerted authorities was the high number of foxes and coyotes being shipped. This pointed to a high mortality of animals in these pens, and that might indicate inhumane practices.

Since there are ongoing covert investigations in most states, many officials are not yet ready to reveal information. However enough information is available to show the extent of the problem. Investigations began in Alabama years ago, where they named it "Operation Foxote." Authorities have now tracked the movements of major dealers in nine states.

Enough evidence was finally obtained, so officers of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division recently arrested 18 persons in 14 counties, for illegal trade, importation and possession of live foxes, coyotes and other wildlife. The officers seized 25 coyotes, 55 foxes, 2 bobcats, 33 cardinals (used for bait), and one moonshine still.

The day after the arrests in Alabama, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries pulled a sweeping inspection of all 41 fox pens in Virginia, and temporarily closed 36 of them. Major Steve Pike, with VDGIF law enforcement, told me that most closures were for minor infractions, such as incomplete paperwork, and those facilities would be reopened quickly.

The serious infractions will lead to both state and federal charges.

Other states are also finding illegal operations, and so far arrests have been made in Florida, Indiana, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

More than one state admitted knowing that both foxes and coyotes have escaped from some of these training pens, but also admitted they don't yet have a handle on numbers. But, you and I know coyotes are extremely adaptable, and it would take the escape of only a few males and a few females, to start a region-wide population explosion. At this point it is only speculation, but evidence is mounting that the great and sudden increase in coyotes in the Southeast United States could at least be aided by animals escaping from poorly maintained foxhound training facilities. Maybe many of those Southeast coyotes didn't swim across the big river, but came by truck.