Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman
It’s ironic. After almost a hundred years and millions of dollars of government and private investment that attempted to shoot and poison the coyote out of existence, that pesky varmint has not only continued to flourish in his original range in the American Southwest, has not only taken up residence in every state of the union – save Hawaii – but now, the coyote has pushed into our cities, where he has become a regular urban dweller, enjoying life even in the most heavily populated cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
It seems that the government strategists who carried out their poorly planned program of elimination failed to take into consideration the natural history of the coyote. They possibly did not realize that, the more they persecuted the coyote, the farther he would range. They might have not known of coyote’s ability to make up for decreases in his number by increasing the number of pups that are born.
They did not factor in the coyote’s immense capacity for adapting to his environment, including negotiating the hectic, crowded existence of urban life.
So here we are, city folks faced with sharing our space with canis latrans, a reality for which we may not be prepared.
To begin with, people tend to react negatively in general towards coyotes, more so than towards other wildlife, like deer or bears.
Dan Flores, in an interview about his book, Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History, said that he believed that Mark Twain’s book Roughing It set the tone for people’s negative feelings about the coyote. “Mark Twain comes along,” said Flores, “and in a three-to-four-page comic rant about the animal, gives us a way to think of it as a cowardly, despicable little wretch that lives off carrion.
Here is part of what Twain wrote:
The cayote is a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton, with a gray wolf-skin stretched over it, a tolerably bushy tail that forever sags down with a despairing expression of forsakenness and misery, a furtive and evil eye, and a long, sharp face, with slightly lifted lip and exposed teeth. He has a general slinking expression all over. The cayote is a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry. He is always poor, out of luck and friendless. The meanest creatures despise him, and even the fleas would desert him for a velocipede.
Mark Twain was wrong, way off the charts. Coyotes are intelligent survivalists. They live in family units. The male and female, who mate for life, are both involved in raising the pups. Coyotes are social and playful, and exhibit great curiosity.
Some people are frightened of coyotes, simply because they are wild, and they don’t know how to relate to wildlife.
Some people are frightened of coyotes because of personal experience. A dog or cat attacked. Killed. A personal encounter with a coyote on a trail. City agencies tend to be aware of the problems and can provide information. Also, websites like CoyoteCoexistence.com provide information and suggestions for how to live comfortably with coyotes.
Some people are frightened by the coyote’s howls and barks and yips. These are an essential aspect in the survival of the pack. Becoming familiar with the different sounds and understanding the purpose for the communication can not only alleviate the fear, but can also contribute to one’s enjoyment.
In one instance, coyotes will call back and forth, sort of like checking on who’s out there. This is not simply social. If their calls are not answered by the pack, this can trigger what is called an autogenic response, meaning they will begin producing larger litters.
Here is an example of a back and forth call:
Another type of call is a family howl, a way of gathering everyone together. Here is an example of a family howl and an ultimate coming together:
So, what is the payback for us to accept this reality and to adapt to the presence of coyotes in our midst? Why does it matter? As Jaymi Heimbuch, in his article Navigating Existence With Urban Coyotes said,
As this top-level predator pushes farther into urban settings, resisting our best efforts at eradication, we are required to pay attention to how we react to our fears about and disconnection with wild animals. If there is a single animal on this planet who will test our own mettle as a species, who pushes us to question our ability to understand instead of judge, to study instead of kill, to coexist instead of dominate, to become more thoughtful and less fearful, it is the coyote.