Aversive Conditioning

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Aversive conditioning is a manufactured negative response to certain things, much like the operant conditioning developed by
Skinner. The contingent behavior is behavior that, when performed, results in the delivery of specific consequences or reinforcers. This article described the measures taken to make coyotes stop wanting to kill lambs for food. The authors’ contention is that it may be possible to reconcile the desires of both ranchers and conservationists. The latter group wishes to enable the coyote and, perhaps other predators, to survive in the open range, as they have for millions of years. Species that kill farm animals include others: mountain lions, bears, bobcats, and red wolves as well as coyotes. This paper on aversive conditioning mainly addresses whether behavior of coyotes can be altered without affecting their survival in the wild. The question Mssrs.
Gustavson and Garcia attempt to address is whether coyotes can be conditioned to kill animals such as mice, rabbits, gophers, and squirrels- species of no economic value in the western United
States- while leaving sheep alone. Clearly, sheep have tremendous economic value in terms of meat and wool production, and ranchers as well as the general meat-consuming public have a vested interest in the survival and success of the ranching industry. Just as clearly, environmentalist and conservationists have an interest in seeing that certain species are enabled to survive in their native habitat, and not simply confined in zoos under whatever terms humans dictate.

To see if they could make coyotes stop killing lambs, the authors first took a sample population of coyotes from different regions of
Montana where coyotes were notorious for killing shepherds’ flocks. They captured seven coyotes, five from the wild and two from captivity. Presumably all of them loved to eat lamb meat. They fed them tainted lamb, wrapped in fresh lamb hide. The meat itself was not toxic to the long-term health of the coyotes that devoured it. Instead, it was laced with lithium chloride, which causes vomiting. One assumption made was that the lithium did not actually affect the taste of the meat. Therefore, the coyotes actually did consume the meat, and uniformly became sick after eating the lamb. As a result of associating the meat with vomiting the coyotes didn’t want to eat lamb anymore. On the contrary, they ran awa...

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... eat them again. One such coyote killed and ate a rabbit within one week, albeit cautiously. Therefore, although it may be deemed a success to be able to state that a certain coyote is well on his/her way to hating lamb, it may be that these coyotes need repeated aversion therapy towards sheep, or towards other livestock which other ranchers might raise.

Finally, even if aversion therapy turns out to be effective, or whether it must be repeated to be effective, there is reason to think that this behavior will not be self-perpetuating. There is no evidence produced that a coyote will avoid sheep simply because its mother does. Aversion to lamb meat is obviously a learned habit, not a genetic one. If all coyotes need to be captured, and perhaps tagged and periodically recaptured, in order persistently avoid or hate lamb meat, the conservationists are defeating their own purpose. For their plan to work, all coyotes will have to be captured and "domesticated" in some way. It would appear that, if this turns out to be the case, truly wild coyotes will have become a thing of the past, and they will not be allowed to roam free in their feral state in any real sense after all.
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