(Cheif, our Palomino’s back covered in claw marks)
For friends of mine on Facebook, they’re well aware of the situation my family and I have been dealing with, in South Jersey, for the past few days. For those of you who only follow my life via my blog, our horse sanctuary has been under attack by “coyotes” for what appears to be a few months. We’ve been finding weird marks on the horse’s backs for weeks, but didn’t think much of the scars. We own a horse sanctuary (Labrador Hill Sanctuary) which is a permanent home to 60+ equines. When you have a herd that large and enough land, accidents happen. Horses play with one another and get into tussles over grain and occasionally hay, which causes them to scratch themselves on the fence posts, etc. But, these marks were unlike any we had ever seen on our horses in the past. They’ve been weary about leaving the property during natural horsemanship sessions, and entering into the adjacent field we own, as well. We’ve heard rumblings from our neighbors in the past that coyotes have been spotted in our area and on our property. I saw a dead one once, when I was about seven on the side of the road (this creature was clearly hit by a car), and my mother saw what appeared to be a fairly large single coyote strolling through the field behind our horse property, about eight years ago. I heard howling a few months back while drinking wine with my boyfriend on my bedroom deck, but I’ve never encountered one in the woods, on the roads, or at the horse sanctuary, besides the dead one when I was seven. Yesterday I went to work with my boyfriend an hour away from home and I received a quite alarming and unsettling text from my mother. My childhood miniature horse, Dusty, had been attacked by a coyote. My boyfriend and I rushed back home to make sure my horse was okay, but it didn’t feel real. We don’t live in Colorado or Wyoming, we live in South Jersey, thirty minutes outside of Philadelphia and Cherry Hill. I grew up exploring the woods and fields around my home and horses with my late dog Diamond, and never ran into a coyote. I was an outdoorsy little girl. I rode my bike everywhere, rode horses, explored, climbed trees, went for adventures around my rural neighborhood with friends, and spent many nights with my mother, outside with the horses. I was shocked and terrified to hear about the incident that occurred the night before. It turned out that Dusty wasn’t the only horse attacked, and Dusty is fine. He has scratch marks on his hindquarters and back, but no blood or wounds were found. He was lucky and had escaped from his attacker. Our much larger Palomino, named Chief, wasn’t so lucky…my mother found him with blood gushing from his nose and mouth, gouge and puncture wounds along his flank and back (on both sides), and the most terrifying discovery, long and deep claw marks on his back. The claw marks were at least a week old and we just hadn’t noticed. He had been stalked and targeted. We think Chief was protecting others in the herd and had charged at his attacker, and that is when he was bit violently in the nose/mouth area. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing or seeing when I returned home. My sanctuary has always been just that, a sanctuary. Our horses have always been safe and happy on our 15 acre piece of property, which as briefly mentioned above, interlocks with a beautiful field (home to many plants and trees, wildlife, and is also preserved wetlands).
In order to protect the herd and keep a watch on things, my boyfriend, my mother, our dear friend Chris, and I spent the night out there last night with the horses. My mother and our friend Chris stood by the entrance to the property, talking and holding flashlights. My boyfriend and I camped out on the roof of my f-150 inside the property with the horses. It’s quiet. We’re sitting there and looking around at the vast darkness that surrounded us. We listened to the horses go about their nightly routines and snort happily, knowing that we were there to protect them from any harm. We hear a strange noise coming from the field (our beautiful field) and I looked over at Tom (my boyfriend), puzzled. The sanctuary returned to absolute silence. If you’ve ever spent anytime enjoying nature, especially at night, you understand what I mean by silence. You can really hear yourself think, and hear the world around you; the animals, wind, trees rustling, and the occasional sound of a plane flying overhead in the distance. It’s amazing, truly, just how quiet it can be. Suddenly, a terrifying noise breaks the silence. I heard clear as day, and only about 100 yards away from us, two coyotes howling and communicating (yipping) with each other. I couldn’t move nor could I react. I sat there, looked at Tom, and quietly hopped down off of the truck. We walked carefully over to where my mother and Chris were and told them we heard the coyotes, just beyond the fenceline. They were just as nervous. We all decided to walk together as a group into the field with spotlights and flashlights to let the coyotes know that they’re not alone; we were watching them, just as they had been watching the horses for months. The field had never been a scary place to me. I’m deathly afraid of the dark (always have been), but never the field or where the horses live. I had often joked to friends about there possibly being larger wild animals living out there at night, but never did I think I would be dealing with what we’re dealing with now. While we were exploring the field and trying to see through the darkness (even with our lights it was incredibly dark), we all felt watched and dare I say, hunted? Tom and I both looked at each other after we decided to return to the road, and said at the exact same time, “I feel as though we’re being watched from all sides.” These creatures have been watching not only the horses for what we think months, but us as well; studying our patterns and daily routines; remembering when we’re present at the sanctuary, and when we’re no longer around. They were elusive and unsettling last night, and I’ll never forget the feeling of being stalked and monitored throughout that field. We returned to the house late last night (our home is the next street over from our horse sanctuary), around 12:00 am. While we sat on my bedroom deck thinking about what had just occurred, unable to sleep, we heard a family of 10-12 coyotes traveling and howling down the road from us. They sounded as though they were signaling to one another and returning to my horse sanctuary, or in that general direction. We quickly hopped back into my truck and sped down there, but all we found were my severely spooked and scared horses, who were very alert and tense. I made sure everyone was safe and returned home for the night. Dogs and other horses in the area were frantic and communicating with each other all night, as if on high alert and warning one another of a present danger in our area.
This morning I went out to check on the horses with my mother and wait for the vet to come out and check on the herd. After checking every horse in the herd for the second time, I realized approximately thirty out of the sixty horses have claw marks all over them. Some of the marks are healing, therefore they’re not fresh, but a few of the horses have newer claw marks and puncture wounds. Clearly, the horses have been working as a herd and fighting them off the best that they can, but why do these creatures of the night keep returning for more? Our vet was disturbed and shocked, just as we were after coming out today to check on Chief, the Palomino who was attacked the other night. He told us that the coyotes must be removed and that they will continue to come back, and they won’t stop. These creatures are hunting for sport; teaming up as a pack to attack 60+ horses (we also have a couple mules, several donkeys, and a few goats). They’re being bold and are most definitely determined. After struggling to deal with this scary situation and asking friends and kind hunters in the area for assistance, we learned new information…
The animals that have been attacking our herd aren’t coyotes. They’re a new breed; a coyote-wolf hybrid. These animals are much larger and stronger than a coyote. They look very much like a wolf, but redder. The wolf part of them is the reason for hunting in substantial packs, opposed to the usual coyote, who hunts either alone or in a pair. They’re not afraid to hunt a horse, because they’re with at least three others at a time. Wolves are elusive, which explains why these animals are so hard to spot, but have been heard numerous times. Wolves are also incredibly determined and smart, which also explains a lot about our situation. According to some, these animals (coyote-wolves) were introduced into our area in the 80s as an attempt to control the deer population (very, very dumb) and have been thriving and reproducing in my area ever since. They travel through our woods and up streams and rivers in Wharton State Forest (the forested area bordering my area and our horse sanctuary) hunting, and have found that my area serves as a great hunting ground. Since the humans have been hunting deer and killing them, along with other animals in the woods around us, the coyote-wolves have decided that there is more food outside of the woods (horses, cats, dogs, chickens, cows, etc.). Unfortunately, these animals have decided to target my herd of horses, and I doubt our horses will and have been the only targets. It has been a terrifying past few days dealing with this, and I just want to urge everyone in my area, or even neighboring areas (there’s been quite a few sightings and incidents of these hybrids in New Jersey, and other states even) to be very cautious, especially at night. Also, no pets should be left outside at night, or possibly even during the day, unattended. If these animals are going up against 60+ horses, what is stopping them from attacking humans? I hope every person and their animal who may or may not be dealing with a similar situation, remains safe, and hopefully we can solve this problem within the next week or so at our horse sanctuary. I’ve been reading other’s tales of their horses and livestock being attacked by coyotes, and the coyote-wolf hybrids, and I truly feel for them, because there is nothing scarier than not knowing how to protect yourself or your animals from harm. We’ve decided that in the next few months we’re going to buy two Guardian dogs (most likely two Great Pyrenees puppies) for the sanctuary. Guardian dogs are guard/flock dogs, whose role is to protect the horses (or other livestock), and patrol the perimeter of the property. They ward off predators and serve a very important role. I will be working with them and training them, and until then we hope for the best and are looking for other solutions to our coyote-wolf problem. I hope my situation and this information will help others who may be dealing with this as well, with their own horses or livestock, in or out of New Jersey.