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Residents of Ottawa's south end complain that coyotes are going through their garbage and killing pets. ((Courtesy of Greg Carter))

A controversial coyote hunting contest in the Ottawa area is being defended by the club sponsoring it.

Gord Atkinson, president of the Osgoode Township Fish, Game and Conservation Club, said the "Great Coyote Cull Contest" wasn't intended to encourage people who don't hunt coyotes to start killing them.

"It was started to basically get people who hunt coyotes involved in our club," Atkinson said Monday.

The contest, which has resulted in an outcry from animal welfare groups, gives participants a chance to win a new shotgun in a draw. They get one ballot each time they bring a dead coyote and a toonie to the Old Co Op farm and hunting supply store in North Gower, a village in Ottawa's rural southern outskirts. As of Monday, the store reported that it had received four entries to the contest.

Atkinson said the contest, which runs until March, is similar to others the club has held, such as its Big Buck Contest for deer hunters this past fall.

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'Parents are afraid to let their children out' because of the coyotes, said Coun. Doug Thompson. ((CBC))

The club executive didn't expect such a big public reaction to its latest contest, and is holding a meeting Monday night to discuss it.

The coyote contest was advertised in one of Osgoode Coun. Doug Thompson's weekly newsletters to constituents in December. It has since been removed from the archived newsletter, although Thompson could not say why.

Thompson admitted there has been a lot of controversy over how to deal with the coyotes, but emphasized they are a serious problem in his ward. The predators are believed to have killed hundreds of pets and farm animals in his ward in the past three years, he said Monday.

"Parents are afraid to let their children out," he added.

Cull needed: councillor

Thompson said he has been working with Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources officials to resolve the problem, and believes that ultimately, the ministry will need to cull the coyotes.

As for the contest, he said, the sponsoring club probably could have worded the announcement better.

"It just says bring in a coyote and $2. That sounds maybe a little Wild West," he said.

Thompson added that the club has a long history in his ward and in the former Osgoode Township, which is now part of Ottawa. It does great community work such as sponsoring fishing derbies and teaching young people about the environment, he said.

"It's not a slap-happy group."

'It's really kind of embarrassing'

Donna Dubreuil, president of the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre, called the contest an "18th-century response" to complaints from local residents about the increasing number of coyotes roaming their neighbourhoods.

"It's really kind of embarrassing," she said.

Dubreuil said the coyote cull contest launched at a time when other cities are gearing up to celebrate 2010 as the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity. People shocked by the contest have been calling from as far away as Vancouver and California, asking if it is for real, she added.

The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies is also publicly protesting the contest.

"Killing wildlife is rarely effective in solving human-wildlife conflicts," said Shelagh MacDonald, program director for the group, in a letter she sent to local animal welfare groups that called the approach "draconian."

"People need to realize that we are destroying and encroaching on the habitat of wild animals as our cities sprawl, thereby forcing closer contact with them. Conflicts can be avoided by keeping garbage secured and not letting pets roam loose, especially at night."

The letter was also sent to a local newspaper, but was not published.