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Coyotes blamed for death of a buffalo

KAYANA SZYMCZAK FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

A group of buffalo grazed at Tyler Kimball’s farm in Haverhill, where he says coyotes killed a buffalo.

HAVERHILL - Coyotes lurking in the woods in Massachusetts have been known to attack dogs, chickens, cats, and even, in rare instances, people. But a buffalo?

Tyler Kimball said it actually happened here on his farm in the dark of night on Saturday, when he says a pack of coyotes entered a 9-acre pen where his 14 buffalo grazed. When the coyotes were done, he says, a buffalo was missing.

With so little left of the animal, a state biologist said, it cannot be known how it actually died or how long it had been dead.

Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

With so little left of the animal, a state biologist said, it cannot be known how it actually died or how long it had been dead.

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Kimball said he is certain coyotes are responsible for killing the 16-month-old bison, a female named Scruffy who weighed about 400 pounds. He said he paid $1,200 for her, and he has vowed to make sure the coyotes do not attack again.

“I’m going to be vigilant and check on them late at night,’’ he said yesterday, as he watched over the buffalo grazing area at Kimball Farm. “I’m going to come out here with my gun, and if I see one I’ll shoot it.’’

Kimball said the state give him permission to shoot coyotes on his land after beef cows were attacked seven years ago. He has shot 17 coyotes, he said.

Marion Larson, information and education biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, which is looking into the incident, said that Kimball, like all landowners who suffer damage from wildlife, is allowed to kill individual animals causing damage. But he does not have permission to kill others.

“That doesn’t mean that because he sees a coyote, he can shoot it,’’ she said. “You can’t do a preemptive strike. The mere presence of a coyote does not constitute a threat.’’

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A state Environmental Police officer visited the farm Wednesday and found coyote marks near a carcass in a muddy area that had only bone and hide, Larson said.

But with so little left of the dead animal, Larson said, it cannot be known how the animal died or how long it had been dead. “We can’t confirm that coyotes did this,’’ Larson said. “Just because there are coyote tracks around, that’s not necessarily what killed the animal.’’

Kimball, 47, has lived much of his life on his family’s century-old farm, where goats, llamas, pigs, and cows also graze the rolling hills and lush pastures. Set amid scenic back roads in Haverhill, the 200-acre farm also draws families to its hay rides, petting zoo, and corn maze.

Around 11:30 Saturday night, Kimball said his wife woke him after she heard the familiar sounds of coyotes howling. He said he rushed out to check the llamas, thinking they were under attack, and then the rest of the animals. He also drove by the buffalos and said he saw the animals standing in a far corner of their pen, which has electric fencing and woven wires to protect the animals.

The night before, Kimball said, he had counted 14 buffalo. But on Sunday, one was gone. Friends spent the morning helping him search for the animal, whose remains were found in a swampy area at the southern edge of the pen, Kimball said.

He said he believes coyotes, acting as a pack, separated the young buffalo from the rest of the herd and got it to the swamp, where they killed and devoured it. He said coyotes killed one of his calves earlier this year.

“There was no other animals that would do this,’’ said Kimball. “It was definitely coyotes.’’

But Larson said such brazen attacks are highly unusual for coyotes, which generally don’t prey in packs and would not dare take down cattle or other large animals.

While coyotes are known to ambush livestock, Larson said, they generally pick animals that are vulnerable because they are giving birth, injured, or ill.

Coyotes also would have faced formidable opposition in a pen full of massive buffalo.

Buffalos are aggressive creatures, highly protective of their herd and their territory, and it would be unlikely that they would not vigorously defend another bison, Larson said.

Larson said it is more likely that the animal died of something else and that the coyotes came later to feast on the remains.

Kimball is sticking to his theory. He said he called state Environmental Police to report the dead buffalo Monday, and an officer showed up at his farm two days later. By yesterday, state wildlife officials had not been to the farm.

Kimball said he is raising the bisons for their meat, but that he had intended for them to protect the chicken coops from further coyote attacks.

It’s not the first incident involving a coyote in Haverhill. In June 2009, a woman walking her dogs told police she was surrounded by coyotes.

A police dispatcher guided her out of the woods as officers rushed to help, but the coyotes kept pursuing.

Meghan Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @MeghanIrons. Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @billybaker.

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