HISTORY for the Record: How Coyotes Arrived in San Francisco

10714 on a horizon 

It has been almost five years since I first learned about this from a good friend and neighbor who who would not divulge his source since he had promised not to, and about six months since it was confirmed with this report to me, from someone also requesting anonymity. It’s time to publicize it.

The DNA of San Francisco coyotes matches that of coyotes north of the city — not south, as one might expect. San Francisco is a peninsula with no way to get to it from the north except over Golden Gate Bridge. So it has been theorized that coyotes walked across Golden Gate Bridge. Sounds exciting, but . . . whoa!

The following information on how coyotes really came to San Francisco was supplied to me by an individual who has been peripherally associated with what happened, actually observed it, and knows the person involved very well.

Yes, coyotes did come over the Golden Gate Bridge, but not on their own four legs. They were brought in from northern Mendocino County by a trapper.

These coyote releases occurred in and around 2002. They didn’t occur just once, they occurred several times, and at least 6 coyotes were involved — probably more. The fellow who brought them into the Presidio — that is where they were left — felt that they had a good chance of survival because of all the rodents and feral cats in the city — he wanted the coyotes to thrive.

Why did he bring them in?  He did so out of retribution for the 1998 ban on leg-hold traps which he had fought against! Interesting twist! He wanted these coyotes to be a problem for the residents. “Darn those liberal voters in San Francisco who voted against leg-hold traps.”  SF was on the route he took to visit relatives further south. It is on his way to visit the relatives that he transported and dropped the coyotes at the Presidio.

The U.S. government routinely shoots, poisons, traps and kills about 90,000 coyotes each year – mostly in rural areas. It’s brutal. California voters passed Proposition 4 on November 3, 1998, enacting California Fish & Game Code § 3003.13 and § 3003.2, which, broadly speaking, ban the use of certain traps and poisons to capture or kill wildlife in the state. Proposition 4 also authorizes criminal prosecution for violation of these subsections, punishable by fines and/or imprisonment. Unfortunately, not all permutations of Proposition 4 were studied before it was passed. Now the more vicious and insidious collarrum snares are being used. 

What did he use to capture these coyotes? He used what was allowed: collarum snares, setting them on *low* hold so that they would not choke the animal to death. Collarum snares normally inflict a particularly horrifying death and are tricky to use, but this man knew how to set them to allow the coyotes to survive. Many were wounded by the snares in the process, but this fellow treated any infections before transporting them to the city and releasing them.

So — coyotes came to San Francisco as a result of the ban on leg-hold traps! Really interesting! The truth is more interesting than the fiction!

And, by the way, most San Francisco residents are thrilled to have this urban wildlife in the area, so no harm done. It’s nice to know how it happened. In fact, it turns out that these coyotes have a better chance for survival in their urban setting where guns, snares and traps are not allowed. But it still is heartbreaking to think of the cruelty inflicted on them to get them here: excruciating physical pain and terrifying fear. Also, these animals were torn away from their very strong family units, creating additional distress. We are lucky those we have survived, and have formed new family units. Moving coyotes can be tantamount to killing them, which is why the state does not allow it. We have about 20 coyotes in San Francisco now. They live in city parks and city golf courses.

Some of the San Francisco Coyotes I’ve Known

Coyotes Are Thriving In San Francisco

Coyotes Return to SF: the story expands

Where did our coyotes come from when they returned to this area shortly before 2003, and how did they get here? There was a long period of time before this time when they were not seen at all in the city. Apparently there is more to it than the very interesting story which we have all heard up until now.

The story that we’ve heard states that our coyotes did not come up over the land from the south as might be expected. Rather, they came into San Francisco from north of the city, which means that their route involved crossing over the Golden Gate Bridge. This is a seemingly unlikely scenario, but there is information which supports it, if the information is correct.  A coyote was apparently seen crossing the bridge — the under-part of the bridge — at night by a ranger. And, there is a video clip of a deer crossing the bridge, so why could not a coyote do so? In addition, there has been DNA testing by Dr. Ben Sacks of UC Davis, linking our San Francisco coyotes to the northern coyotes, the DNA is different from that of the southern coyotes. So this is the story which we are hearing:  that our coyotes came from the north over Golden Gate Bridge. It really is a very exciting story.

However, it appears that this is not the entire story. A totally trustworthy, older friend of mine revealed to me that he knows how the coyotes really got here. He told me that he knows the fellow, a ranger, who absolutely “swears” that he brought them in himself — at least some of them. My friend wanted me to know this because I told him how they might have crossed the bridge — he let me know this was not the whole truth. His revelation can never be reported fully because of its being an illegal activity. No one is going to say anything about it officially, and no names will ever be given — there is only a small, tight group that even knows about it. My friend only told me this much and would reveal no more.

My own feeling is that if some of our coyotes were brought into the city in this manner, it should be known. Unless all possibilities are taken into account, you are “creating” a false history. I would rather consider all possibilities that might lead us to know how they really got here. Although there seems to be little evidence to support it, several people have suggested to me that coyotes have always been here — that because their population was sparser, people just didn’t take note of them. I have noticed in the last few years that voles and gophers are rampant in the parks as never before  – could this plentiful food supply be an incentive for the coyotes to reproduce? Should we keep this possibility in mind? “It does seem possible that coyotes have been traveling through San Francisco for a while,” Erin Boydston, USGS, said in a 2003 SF Chronicle interview.