Even though organizers chose to relocate the Southern Illinois Predator Challenge to an undisclosed location, the dozen or so protestors who showed up on Sunday took their message to a more populous location.
“We were not interested in violence or disorder,” said Pam Sundeen, who organized the protest. “We simply wanted to use our rights of free speech and assembly to bring the message that events like these are not ethical hunting.”
Sundeen is an animal rights activist and operates Second Nature Wildlife Rehabilitation in Thompsonville.
The SIPC event, during which hunters competed this weekend to see who could kill the most coyotes, was supposed to take place in the parking lot of the American Legion in Marion. About two dozen protestors showed up Saturday morning at 8 a.m., an hour before the registration deadline, and found an empty parking lot.
“We were told the event had been moved,” said Marc Ayers, Illinois State Director for the Humane Society of the United States.
Ayers' phone calls to event organizer Paul Browne went unanswered. Browne did answer an initial call from the Benton Evening News but refused to disclose the location of the event.
“I don’t think you’re going to hunt,” he said before hanging up. Subsequent calls went unanswered, but he did send a text message approximately three hours later that read, “the event is on private property.”
A return text inquiring if there was a reason for the secrecy was answered about three hours later.
“The event was moved to private property due to a conflict with the Super Bowl party at the American Legion,” it read.
A visit to the American Legion around 2:30 p.m., 90 minutes after the scheduled end of the SIPC event, found a nearly empty parking lot.
The dozen or so protesters who gathered on the Marion square were not deterred.
“We don’t give up that easily,” said Ayers, who eventually learned of the new location through a contact.
The group loaded up and headed for the Eagle Point Bay Association property, about 15 minutes south of Marion, where they assembled on the roadside across from the property.
Ayers estimated there were about 70 hunters. Event participants, he said, told him they had killed 55 coyotes. Browne was not visible as the animals were covered with tarps and the property was being cleaned up.
The protesters, some of whom traveled more than 100 miles, were pleased at the interaction on the square.
Animals rights activist Brianna Dioorenzo from Bloomington had a gentleman ask her why she was protesting hunting.
“I told him this definitely isn’t about hunting,” she said. “When I explained what was happening, he said he was a hunter but agreed that this event was not ethical hunting.”
In an earlier interview, Browne said events like the SIPC are needed to keep the coyote population in check.
“Predator hunting in general, or events like this, likely do not impact the long-term population of coyotes,” he said. “But it does remove coyotes from the population during a time of the year when food resources are scarce for predators, which often leads to adverse conflicts with livestock and pets.”
“There’s so many studies that prove these contests don’t work,” she said. “How can a killing contest that awards prizes for killing the youngest coyote help the ecosystem?”
“Even if large numbers of carnivores are removed from an area, scientific evidence demonstrates that native carnivore species such as coyotes and foxes respond through an increase in numbers,” he said. “Killing contests create instability and chaos in the family structures.”
Sundeen said the contests aren’t about balancing the ecosystem.
“It’s about bragging rights,” she said. “The fact that they took this event underground and refused to tell the location should show that it’s about nothing more than killing for fun.”
Sundeen also pointed out that since the contest area was “anywhere,” it wasn’t really about the local population of coyotes. “How can an animal killed in Kentucky or Missouri help to cull the population here in Southern Illinois?” she asked.
For his part, Ayers said the protest showed that just a few people can make a difference.
“It was a sad day for these animals,” he said, “but we celebrate knowing a dozen activists scared away 70-plus hunters. I’ll be making sure our elected officials know about these activities.”
Crystal Yates, owner of Sudsy Paws in Marion, joined the protest on Sunday.
“There’s a million reason why I’m here,” she said. “The main reason is that I don’t want my grandkids to grow up thinking a bloodsport is OK. I’m not against hunting for food, but this is ridiculous.”