USDA’s Wildlife Services kills thousands of animals a year with exploding cyanide capsules.

coyote cyanide

The term “M-44” sounds innocuous — almost like the name of a rural highway — but the reality is far more sinister.

M-44s are actually small, lethal devices used on farms and similar sites to kill so-called “pest” animals such as coyotes and foxes. The devices — a favored tool of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program called Wildlife Services — lure animals in with the smell of tasty bait, then inject a deadly dose of sodium cyanide directly into their mouths.

Technically known as “cyanide injector devices,” M-44s have earned the more lurid nickname: “cyanide bombs.”

Recent studies have shown that lethal control of predators actually tends to increase livestock deaths, but Wildlife Services continues to use outdated science — and animals die as a result.

It’s not just coyotes that are killed by M-44s. Since 2010, 14,431 animals have been killed each year on average by these poison bombs.

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M-44s are typically stuck in the ground out in the wild where anything — or anyone — might find them, making them indiscriminate killers.

Wildlife isn’t alone, though. M-44s have been blamed for the deaths of numerous pet dogs, and even injured a child in 2017 after he touched what he said looked like “a sprinkler sticking out of the ground.”

With intentional and accidental deaths stacking up, many conservation organizations — including the Center for Biological Diversity, publishers of The Revelator — have called for and even sued to stop Wildlife Services from employing M-44s. As of this writing, however, their use continues.

  • References: USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – Program Data Report
  • Image credits: Coyote by USFWS Pacific Southwest Region; Coyote portrait by Jean-Guy Dallaire/Flickr CC BY-NC 3.0; Gray fox by lonewolv/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0; Swift fox by Cburnett/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0; Golden Eagle by Tom Koerner/USFWS; Ringtail by National Park Service; Bald eagle by USFWSmidwest; Collared Peccary by Nilfanion/Wikimedia CCY BY 3.0; Bobcat by Jitze Couperus/Flickr CC BY 2.0; Striped Skunk by animalphotos/DeviantArt CC BY-NC 3.0; Fisher by ForestWander/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0; Marmot by Inklein/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0; Raven by Ingrid Taylar/Flickr CC BY 2.0; Black Bear by Ryan Poplin/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0


Editor’s Note: The day after publication of this story, several conservation groups, including The Revelator‘s publisher, the Center for Biological Diversity, petitioned the EPA to ban the use of M-44 cyanide bombs.