A Coyote Blog For Those Who Love Coyotes

Thoughts about not-so-shy little coyotes:                                                       why it is this way and what we can do to coexist peacefully.

Coyotes can be seen occasionally  in various parks in the Bay Area. Most stay fairly hidden, so a glimpse might be all you get. But in several of the parks there are coyotes who are more “out-in-the-open.” Aren’t coyotes supposed to have fears and flee from humans and dogs?  People have been accused of causing some coyotes to lose fear by approaching to watch or photograph them — they advocate that we need to throw stones and scream and shoo them off at all times. I disagree with both of these premises. I want to address why some coyote are not so shy, and that we need to concentrate on preventing dog encounters for the dogs’ and coyotes’ safety. I’ve added a footnote about my own approach to wildlife.

First of all, these coyotes have been acclimated to humans for at least three years now — that is as long as I have seen any in the parks. This is due to their living in an urban environment where they see people daily. Coyotes are fast learners: a coyote would quickly learn that humans do not harm them: there have not been any adverse consequences to coyotes from humans so far. It might also be that some coyotes are individually less fearful than others — animals are individuals and do not all fit a “norm”.

People are fearful that some of the coyotes are being fed: walkers have seen food left out, and residents along the periphery of the park have let me know that they would talk to household members who “might” be leaving food out when I went to each house requesting that they not do so. Those of us who care for the coyotes know that you never feed wildlife, because this could lead to a coyote’s “demanding” food at some point — it could lead to aggressive behavior towards humans. However, these tendencies do not exist in the coyotes I have seen. Although these coyotes can sometimes be spotted blatantly out in the open with no need to run for cover, they cautiously keep their distance from people.

I have seen coyotes going about their business of hunting gophers, observing, walking up a street. I’ve seen one doze off, eyes closed, in full view of a stream of walkers. However, they do move off, keeping their “critical distance” if approached too closely — the distance is a measure of a coyote’s feeling of safety.  Most of us who love coyotes see the parks as their home — respectfully. After all, we have an entire city, they have only a park, where they have asked only, if not blatantly and clearly, that we not let the dogs chase them.

The only problem I have seen is with the dogs. Dogs are seen as a threat to coyotes — a much bigger threat than dog walkers realize, a threat we may not really comprehend until our dog gets hurt. Dogs approaching a coyote have caused every incident of concern in our parks. That coyotes communicate visually is something domestic dogs do not often respond to.  A coyote may need to communicate more forcefully to dogs who chase it: short bursts of charging and retreating, a long and piercing barking session up on its hind legs, or nips at the haunches of the offending dog in a cattle dog’s herding fashion — all of this accomplished with intensity. We need to prevent these incidents. We can prevent them by leashing our dogs in coyote areas.

In response to these dog intrusions, some coyotes have taken the initiative and become somewhat bolder with some of the dogs.  Although I have not seen coyotes follow humans walking alone, coyotes have sometimes followed dogs and their walkers. No one has been particularly bothered by this until very recently, when a couple of walkers said this made them uncomfortable: they felt that they were being “escorted” out of the park more than just curiously observed, and they felt they were being followed a little more closely than before. But most people in the parks are still thrilled to catch a glimpse of this wild creature in an urban park, even if it is following them.

It seems that the best way to make co-existence work peacefully — coyotes, humans, dogs — is to keep our dogs totally away from any coyotes by keeping them right next to us in sections of parks where we see a coyote most often. Even with this precaution, there is the element of a surprise appearance that easily can catch anyone off guard. So, a dog owner needs to look ahead, think ahead, and leash up. Animal Care and Control has told me that a coyote is allowed to protect itself. What dog owners need to know is that to prevent a coyote’s need to protect itself, we need to keep all dogs totally and absolutely away from it and from any possible pups. Coyote activity mostly occurs early in the day, although it is not limited to this time.

The return of coyotes to urban settings is an exciting development which points to an ideal that many of us have hoped for: an environment which is becoming more and more balanced in all of its aspects. It is an example of where, rather than controlling all aspects of our surroundings, we are accepting what is out there and learning to appreciate it and live with it. A coyote is a wild animal. We need to remember this. However, in an urban setting the edge of this wildness is going to be lost — but not all of it will be lost. So, a coyote will stand up for itself when threatened by a dog that chases or startles it.  We can eliminate their need to stand up for themselves by ensuring that our dogs never approach them. It is only through each dog owner’s taking responsibility that this can happen. I’m hoping that everyone will help.

I wanted to add a footnote about wildlife and communicating with it. I know an animal person who truly believes that one should keep a huge distance and never even make eye-contact with a wild animal to keep it wild. I can’t imagine a more soul-less approach to animals. It is only by branching out and truly seeing other people and animals that our world acquires layers of meaning. To absorb as much as there is out there, we have to be open to it. Fortunately, one of my favorite people, Jane Goodall, agrees. In the September 21, 2009 issue of Time Magazine, she says, “I’ve always been very attached to the animals I work with, and although a scientist is supposed to be subjective and lack empathy, I’ve always thought that this is wrong. It’s the empathy you feel with a living, individual being that really helps you understand.”

Any suggestions for keeping our urban coyotes as safe as possible? Back to first page of blog.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Unowho
    Sep 17, 2009 @ 01:59:50

    Wow, what a _great_ blog!!!
    :-)

    Reply

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