The Scourge of Mange

On this cloudy, cold, breezy morning, I was walking through South Platte Park when a pair of coyotes bolted from the riverside shrubs and loped across a snow-covered meadow.  One, endowed with a thick winter coat, was oblivious of the chilly wind, while the other was nearly hairless, sporting only a few tufts of fur along its back.  The latter animal was suffering from a severe case of sarcoptic mange.

Caused by a highly contagious, parasitic mite that burrows into the skin and causes intense itching, sarcoptic mange is a common disease of wild canines that can also develop in livestock and domestic pets; indeed, human scabies is essentially the same type of infestation.  Since wild canines usually live in packs, they are especially susceptible to sarcoptic mange which is generally fatal; death usually results from hypothermia and/or starvation.  Often shunned by their pack, severely infected coyotes cannot effectively hunt (due to their weakened condition and eventual blindness) and may turn up in residential areas to consume dog food, bird seed or garbage.

When we consider nature's beauty, we do not think of mangey coyotes.  But life in the wild can be cruel and nature is neither sentimental nor empathetic.  This morning's encounter was unsettling but also a reminder that the circle of life is not always pretty to behold.