Lost Alpha Status?

I’ve followed a female coyote for several years now — I’ll call her “mom”.  She had puppies the first year and the second year — they all grew up and eventually dispersed. But the third year and this year there were no puppies. Why? We are told that only “alpha” coyotes reproduce. So, might no puppies be due to her having lost her “alpha” status and might this also have something to do with the possibility that a new family group of coyotes might now be using this same territory?

Coyotes form nuclear family groups which exclude other coyotes from their groups and from their territories. I’ve watched this mother coyote raise her various families. Never have we seen other coyote faces within her family group, or other coyotes in her territory.

The theory of lost status occurred to me due to a rumor — unsubstantiated at this point — that a new coyote group, including juveniles, might have been spotted recently, passing through what has been her territory. I have not seen a new group at all. Coyote rumors are rampant in this area: they often spin into a life of their own. So my theory is speculative, at the moment, and will have to remain that way until we verify what we have heard through the grapevine. But I wanted to explore this possibility of loss of alpha status, even if it exists only as a theoretical possibility. I have noticed changes in behavior that might be explained by a loss of alpha status.

Coyote groups are always family groups: genetically-related individuals with the same parents. They are not like dog packs, where unrelated individual dogs form groups for survival purposes. If a new group of coyotes was seen that included juveniles, the young ones would have had to have been born last year, when our mother had no pups. They would have been born to another alpha since only alphas breed.

The presence of another family might also explain why our mom coyote’s forays into the larger part of a park have dwindled, if not totally ceased — she has been limiting her outings to a smaller area now, and I’ve seen her eyeing the adjacent area where the new coyotes were purportedly spotted.

Why might she have lost her alpha status? Could this have happened when her mate was killed? We are assuming it was her mate who was found poisoned two years ago, right at about the time her second set of puppies was born. We assumed this because we never saw a male in her territory after that event. We only saw her and her growing pups. Was her status tied to his status, and then lost when he died?  Or could she have lost her status because there was no male, whatever his status? Or might she have lost it by another means — for instance, she was badly injured by a car two years ago, which might have compromised her ability to remain an alpha?

Then again, she might be too old now for pups, or she might have sustained internal injuries from that car accident that prevent her from having more puppies. One theory brought up in the literature is that coyotes self-regulate their population sizes. If an area has all the coyotes it can support, coyotes will have very tiny litters, or none at all.

So, no puppies, and the possible sighting of another family group including juveniles makes me think of the possibility of lost alpha status. In addition, the previous bolder behavior which suggested an alpha is no longer what I am seeing in our mom. We will never know the answer to the “whys”. But we do know that this very proud, aware and responsible mother coyote has stopped having pups altogether for the past couple of years and she has retreated to a smaller territorial area where she has been less visible than she used to be. Time will tell how long this situation will last — it might be very temporary, or it could be long-term.

Habitat destruction could be driving coyotes out of their previous homes and into new areas.

Habitat Destruction. Habitat destruction is the single most harmful human activity to wild animals. Many of us are upset at the very short-sighted policies causing this habitat destruction which lead to displacement of our wild animals. The “native plant programs” is a case in point: dense animal habitat is being removed in order to plant native plants which offer little if any habitat value — these are mostly dune-type plants. Animal habitat consists of dense areas of growth, brambles and underbrush which are impenetrable to humans and dogs — this is what makes it a safe habitat for animals. In San Francisco we have vast areas of our Presidio which are now being cleared of their forested areas for the benefit of native plants — this means lost habitat. In addition, the remodeling of Doyle Drive, and its attendant habitat destruction, may be driving coyotes out of their original homes close to the periphery of the city, and causing them to move deeper into the heart of the city to find new places to live. If new groups of coyotes are being seen in some areas, this is the strongest explanation.

One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Parenthood Confers Alfa Status, Not The Other Way Around, By Charles Wood « Coyote Yipps

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