Narrowed-Eyes

A slight narrowing of the eyes is an instinctual, universal expression of anger across various species in the animal world. Today I noticed a coyote narrow its eyes a number of times. I was also able to take a photo of the eyes not-narrowed each time, so you can see the difference. The three photos on the first line show the narrowed eyes, the second line shows normal eyes. The other expression that a coyote uses when it feels displeasure is tightening of the lips so that the teeth show. This is not always meant as a communication, because in these cases sometimes it did not occur when another animal was close enough to have noticed. So it also is an expression of the coyote’s inner emotional state. The 7th photo shows this clearly. The 8th and 9th photos are of a coyote grunting in disapproval — actually preparing to bark. The barking did not begin in these instances.

When did these expressions occur? When dogs were coming towards the coyote, OR when the coyote saw dogs that have intruded upon it in the past! As you can see, our urban coyotes have strong feelings based on their own past experiences and on feeling themselves threatened. I have only seen this in dominant female coyotes.

Amazing Maternal Care & Affection: A Typical Example

What a thrill I had today as I observed coyote behavior.  The intricacies and depth of care, and the bonds and affection within a coyote family I am finding to be very profound.

This morning the moon was full, bright and overpowering. So I sat down to photograph it. I was hoping to get the details of moon topography which my camera is so good at picking up — not so my naked eye! As I was doing this, yes, a coyote wandered by, looked at me, went further off, came closer and then wandered on. What a nice opening for my day!  I then continued my own walk, not needing to see anything else at all that day.

An hour later, on my way back on one of the looped footpaths, I saw the mother coyote headed to where I had seen the other one earlier — the other one being a year-old offspring of this one. I followed at a distance in hopes of picking up some interesting tidbit of behavior. This coyote kept stopping, looking around and then moving ahead, rather purposefully. Then, right at the edge of some tall grass I could barely discern some activity: there were two coyotes now, falling over each other with joy, kisses and hugs. Yes, that is how I would have to characterize it. This greeting lasted about 8 seconds — I only got one bad shot of it. The one photo I have does not convey the intensity and warmth. I have never seen two dogs greet this way, and seldom have I even seen a human and dog greet in this manner. I think the greeting must have also imparted a message to “come with me”, because the mom seemed to lead the way and the younger one followed, back in the direction from which she had just come. Whenever the younger one stopped to examine something, the mom stopped and waited — sometimes sitting patiently while doing so. When the younger coyote appeared in the path in back of the mom again, they walked on.

They soon veered off the path, and proceeded over rocks, tree trunks and overgrowth. I followed as best I could and did end up where they did. The mom trotted on and junior followed. He had been led to food: mom had fetched him to take him to this food. The young one began eating and the mother moved out of sight and into the further distance. I was too far away, with shrubbery in the way, to be able to tell what was being eaten: it looked like soft food, such as a pear or potato.  It was not of animal origin. Possibly there is a pear tree in the area? Or, could the mother have retrieved this from someone’s garbage? The other possibility is food left by late night revelers — of which there are plenty in the park as attested to by the beer cans we find on the weekends.

When all had been eaten, the younger coyote urinated on the food spot, looked around, and moved into the brush area where its mother had gone. I went to the spot where he had eaten to check it out, but nothing remained. So I continued to follow. At this point I could see the mother coyote waiting up on a hill, continually looking in the direction of the younger one. I assumed the younger one was supposed to follow. But the younger one continued to hunt in the area, and then I lost vision of it. The mother obviously was waiting for the youth to follow her. When he didn’t appear, she went looking for him!! The mom began a fairly intense search, trotting this way and that, looking and smelling for clues — even looking down an escape path which I have seen coyotes use. She finally disappeared into the underbrush. I returned to find the young one in the area where I had last seen it. When it saw me this time, it took off into the underbrush, too.

So, this very purposeful family interaction was very rewarding to watch. The sequence included the mom’s initial search for the younger coyote, the super-affectionate greeting, her waiting for the younger one, leading him some distance to food, her going off to wait while he ate, and then her searching for him when he was supposed to follow. The entire series of behaviors constitute a thrilling show of family interconnectedness, care and affection. In coyotes, the family, with all of its attendant interactions, appears to be what social structure is based on.

Coyote Blocking A Path; or Feeling Threatened by a Human Who Is Trying To Retrieve Their Dog

I want to describe two coyote behaviors which I was recently told about.  Although I cannot give the exact details because I wasn’t there, I nonetheless want to describe what I was told so that others will be aware of all possibilities when encountering a coyote. The coyote acted “boldly” for self-protective reasons in both instances  — we have to look at the whole picture to know what is going on. Both of these dog walkers handled the situation really well.

1) Condi has a large, nine-year old Weimaranger. She and her dog stay away from coyotes always. However, a few days ago she said that a coyote would not let them by! The coyote stood ahead in the middle of the path which she was on. Condi did not want to approach with her dog. When she went around to another loop in the path, the coyote had gone there! The only thing she could do was to turn back, which is what she did. I asked Condi what she thought might have been going on. She thought the coyote was possibly guarding a food source.

2) Robin realized something was up when her Ridgeback’s hackles went up and the dog headed off the path to sniff. Yes, there was a coyote right there. But the dog had already gotten too close to the coyote by the time Robin realized this. The coyote began its defensive display as Robin tried going in to grab her dog. She felt that the defensive display was also directed at her as she approached her dog which was close to the coyote, so she stood back and was able to call her dog to her. They then walked on without incident. It is never a good idea for a human to walk towards a coyote, especially if the coyote is already acting defensive — the animal might feel pursued or cornered which might cause it to take more desperate measures to defend itself. I actually saw the threesome coyote family right in that same spot that same morning, maybe around 15 minutes after Robin had passed through. Two other walkers saw these three also at about that time. Coyotes do not like to be approached by dogs. If it happens to be a mother coyote, she can be particularly defensive if her family members are in the area, and this is what we all have to be aware of.

Hole Under a Fence a Coyote Squeezed Through

I watched as a coyote squeezed through this hole under a cyclone fence. The hole under the fence had been dug at some previous date.  I measured it — it was about 7″ down under the fence, and 7″ beyond the fence line — I think this might be the size of their den openings. However, this opening had an angle involved. The coyote slowly went up to the opening, stuck its head under it, and withdrew several times to look around before proceeding through. Finally it slid its head in first — down then up — then arched its back and slithered right through — down and up like a snake. I don’t think a domestic dog would have made it through because of the bend. I saw this coyote’s amazing ability to twist and compact itself. I know that humans, unless they are overweight, can fit through any space that their heads can fit through — I wonder if this is the criteria for coyotes? The opening I saw today required fantastic flexibility, from “through” the hole to “up and out of it”. Hmmm. The bend was the interesting part. It was fun to watch the coyote slither through after scrutinizing its surroundings first.

I’ve made another observation which I wanted to put in here: I’m seeing that individual coyotes actually have habits and routines specific to themselves and not to other coyotes! These habits occur over a period of time, then may change for a while, and then may return. This confirms what I have heard so often: that coyotes are so very individualistic in their behaviors. In fact, aside from facial characteristics, it is the behavior of a coyote which will help me identify it. For example, the way one plays, which ones play, which ones are curious, favorite spots, etc.

Do Coyotes Eat Thistle?

I briefly saw a coyote standing very still by some thistle. The thistle was in the way, but I took a few photos anyway: as I did so, the coyote actually focused on, licked and nibbled on something — and I don’t think it was nibbling the thistle!! My guess is that it was a snail, though I never actually saw the snail — coyotes do eat snails.  Snails climb high on grasses and plants — I’ve seen them get up to 4 feet high on a plant.  I couldn’t imagine that a snail would pick a thorny thistle to slither up, so the next day I went exploring to confirm this. I found both the “bubbles” that snails leave, and snails themselves on these plants: they do indeed climb thorny thistles! Coyotes are opportunistic eaters — which means they will eat almost anything that is available if they need to. I saw this coyote out at a fairly late hour — I’m wondering if it was not finding the food it needed and for that reason continued foraging into later in the day?

Lactating Mothers

Here are photographs of older lactating mother coyotes. From a distance their condition might easily be missed, but zooming-in on an image clearly reveals the state of the coyote. Mother coyotes are nursing their pups at this time and they are very protective of them.

By five to six weeks of age the pups will have been weaned, but the family remains a very dynamic group for interacting, learning, helping each other, playing and hunting.  The family unit is an extremely strong one for coyotes — this is something we humans need to be attuned to.  A mother coyote will watch out for her pups well beyond the point when they are old enough to fend for themselves.

There is only one breeding female and one breeding male per “pack” of coyotes — a “pack” is actually a family unit. Unrelated coyotes do not band together as a “pack” as do feral dogs. Sometimes the dominant one is the female, and sometimes it is the male of the breeding pair — in this case, it is this female mother. It is this dominant coyote which we all need to develop respect for if we want coexistence to work in our urban parks. Respect means not allowing our dogs to intrude on her — by leashing up in a coyote area.

Entertainment: Abandon and Fun With A Ball!

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NOTE THAT THERE ARE 71 SLIDES IN THE ABOVE SLIDE SHOW — IT IS A LONG ONE!

Today I encountered a happy, lone, young male coyote. I know it is a “he” because of the way he urinated standing up (females squat). The coyote first appeared when a dog and walker came along a path — I have found this to be the case very often: dogs seem to draw coyotes out into the open. The dog walker walked on by — both coyote and dog kept their distance and ignored each other. That is how my observations for this posting began.

The coyote watched the walker disappear down the path. And then he smiled — it really is a smile! Then he stretched, scratched, yawned. He walked to the path where he took a spine out of his foot and then walked back to a grassy area where the fun began!  First he played wholeheartedly with a ball for some time — tossing it up and catching it. After a while of this, he took a break, first urinating right on the ball — maybe he was claiming ownership? and then sniffing both the air and the ground — possibly for messages from the rest of the family? Well, there appeared to be no messages, so the young, fun-loving coyote returned to more frolicking in, and chewing on, some straw. After a few minutes it must have been time to move on, because the coyote got up and walked some distance, sporadically stopping and eyeing the ground for movement. It pooped in two places, maybe 200 feet apart. Then I saw it pounce — yes — it had caught a vole which it tossed and then threw to the ground before picking it up, crushing it and swallowing it whole. This young fellow then walked to the crest of a small hill where he looked down below to where dogs might have been — but the park was pretty empty. I turned back at this point.  The slide show above is long — 71 images — how could I leave anything out? However the actual time was amazingly short: the ball play was all within one minute, as was the playing in the hay. The capturing and eating the vole took almost two minutes. And that’s it, time-wise. The little coyote obviously was having a great time. Coyotes smile when they are happy — I have seen it many times and you can see it here!

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Another Dog Incident: A little later a runner told me that he had just seen a “very large” coyote — it was not the same one I had observed earlier — that one was on the other side of the park. It should be known that our coyotes are “western coyotes” and weigh only about 25 pounds. I have found that when someone describes a coyote as “very large” it has more to do with their own apprehensions and fears. Sure enough, the man asked me if the coyote might come up to him and hurt him. I had to assure him that this has never happened in this area, that these coyotes have a healthy fear of people.

We began hearing the distressed barking that a coyote engages in when it has been chased by a dog. This was the coyote the runner had just seen. Then a woman said that a coyote had chased her dog. I want it to be known that coyotes do not chase for no reason — they “chase back” after having been intruded upon first, and then they run to high ground where they engage in a barking session. The distressed barking, which lasts as long as 20 minutes, is both a complaining and a statement of being present: “I’m here and leave me alone”. Why had not the dog been leashed in this known coyote area? I had passed this same dog with its owner only half an hour earlier. The dog had barked at me viciously as I walked on the path — I do not have a dog, so the dog was barking at me and the owner could not control the dog, though she did leash it at that point. I have heard this same dog bark at coyotes various times and chase them. Barking at me or a coyote constitutes a threat — I do not like to be threatened like this. This coyote might have engaged in a self-defensive feint before retreating to the safe barking location where we now saw it. Everyone I know expects a coyote to defend itself from such a threat. The coyote has never harmed. However it has put on defensive bluffing displays which are meant to ward off dogs. If we would respect the coyotes and their space by not intruding on them, such problems would never arise in the first place.

Reconfirming Her “Status” or “Place in the Park” constitutes Communication, not Aggression

I’ve been studying urban coyote behavior for some time now, and I’ve seen a lot. I’ve also noticed people’s reactions to coyotes: these run from detestation and annoyance to joyous and enthralled. Those who have fears and are apprehensive, or who have had trouble with a coyote because of their own uncontrollable dogs, often have negative feelings about coyotes. At the opposite extreme are those who feel a strong personal tie to them. I’ve heard individuals say they “communed” with a coyote as they watched it for a little while, and I’ve overheard a number of people say a gentle “goodby” after having spent some time watching one!

Today I had someone ask me about “aggressive urban coyotes”. The language is not precise. Understanding what is going on requires more than just what meets the eye. “People often conflate the words “aggressive”, “assertive“, “bold”, “curious”, and “investigating” for example, and we need consistency so that we can come to a better understanding of how coyotes actually interact with humans” [“Coyotes: fascinating animals who should be appreciated and not killed” by Mark Bekoff, May 12, 2010 in Animal Behavior].

I have watched coyotes in our parks over time. I have not ever seen blatant “aggression”. I have seen a coyote “defend” itself when it was chased by a dog, and I have seen a coyote act defensively when it was surprised by a dog. I have seen a coyote become very “touchy” during pupping season — again, this is a self-protective and defensive reaction to dogs. People need to see the dog threat from the coyote’s point of view to understand what is going on. If a dog is threatening a coyote, or has in the past, the ground will have been laid, by their own dogs, for coyotes to now react antagonistically towards this same dog — this is a defensive reaction and communication to keep the dog away. Even an unruly leashed dog lunging towards a coyote within a short distance will be transmitting the same message to the coyote as one which chases, and this will be remembered by the coyote. Please do not let your dog get close to a coyote in the first place.

I am now seeing that the “chase-chase” behavior I have previously described — a behavior I have seen between a dog and coyote who have interacted negatively in the past — may actually be a coyote reconfirming and affirming her dominant status within an area: it could be seen as an infrequently used “reality check” for the dog — it constitutes a communication to a dog.  It is only the dominant female that I have ever seen engage in this kind of behavior: the dominant female is always the pack leader and the only reproducing female. I’ve never seen the behavior end in actual biting or harm — rather it seems to be an intense show to warn and inform dogs that have threatened the coyote in the past. I have seen this behavior only a few times.

Please keep your dog leashed and close to you in coyote areas. It is best to keep coyotes and dogs as far apart as possible. If you see a coyote, please head away from it and out of the area.  Few people know which is the alpha, and it is the alpha which is very protective of her “flock” and appears to be protective of her own “status”.

Rest, Hunt, and Call From Mom?

Before dawn I saw two jumping and running movements in the distance. From where I was, it looked like they could have been cats, but I knew better. These were two young coyotes having fun — I could barely see them. As I moved down the trail I could see only one, sitting. Within seconds the other bounded out of the tall grass. The activity slowed down. The one which had been sitting walked over to a pile of cut straw in the middle of a small clearing. After circling once, it curled up on the ground — the way my dog has before lying down. The other one then bounded joyfully towards this one and leaped over the one lying down!! These young coyotes were happy. I’ve seen them happy many times: they show this through their sprightly jumps towards each other and facial expressions. It was too dark to see facial expressions this time, but my camera did catch one smile. The second coyote then curled up right next to the first, apparently for a nap and to wait. They put their heads down.

Sometimes I pointed my camera in their direction and saw nothing, but sometimes a head or both heads would pop up to look around and then the heads would be lowered again.

Then I saw one of the coyotes eyeing the ground in front of himself as it cocked its head from side to side — there must have been movement which caught his attention. This one jumped up and pounced twice, and then began to dig, moving the straw with its paws. Obviously this coyote had spotted either a vole or a gopher. It pursued this activity for some time. Interestingly, the other fellow remained totally calm and still, raising its head only to observe now and then. There was no prize at the end of the hunting session, so this coyote again curled up next to its sibling where they both remained quiet for a while.

And then, the exciting part: suddenly both coyotes bounced up with their joyful and enthusiastic leaps at the exact same time — as if they had been waiting for this — and they headed in the same direction in tandem and at a run. It was obvious to me that they had been called or summoned. Was it auditory? If so, I wonder what sort of call it was? I, of course, heard nothing — but it sure looked like an auditory signal they had responded to — the way my dog might have responded — and the enthusiasm they showed made me think it was their mother. Their departing leaps were the same as the energetic bounding that one had displayed towards its sibling above, and I have seen them respond to their mother this same way when they have approached her in the past. These young coyotes are one year old. They stick together a lot of the time, and they definitely are still part of the family unit they were born into.

A Coyote Takes The Initiative: Following & Leading

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Coyotes in our parks have been chased routinely by dogs — and they react to this. But coyotes themselves have choices. Coyotes have a choice regarding whether to remain out in the open where they can be seen or not. They also have a choice when it comes to following a dog, or to coming-in close to a dog — something this occurs if a dog has been antagonistic to the coyote or has chased it in the past. Why do coyotes behave this way? Why don’t they just stay out of view? Why don’t they just flee? Probably instincts for survival are kicking in. If we can learn the sequence of events leading up to the behaviors, and what the behaviors actually accomplish, we will be getting closer to answering “why” coyotes behave the way they do. It won’t be easy, since cause and effect don’t always fall into a neat line. The best example we have of this is our own human behavior!

Yesterday a dog and walker came down their habitual path. As they did so, a coyote pair — a mother and offspring — approached them on the same path from in front until the dog stopped — then the coyotes stopped. I was told by the walker that this happens frequently. When the dog stops, so as not to get closer to the coyotes, the coyotes turn around and actually lead the way down the path for a little way before veering off from the trail. Coyotes know the habitual path of all walkers who frequent their areas; by knowing a walker’s route, they can actually “follow” from in front! The distance I saw these coyotes keep away from this dog was short — probably about 25 feet. Since there has never been an incident between this particular dog and the coyotes (yes, the dog did get too close a couple of times), and since this dog minds its owner and ignores the coyotes, the owner hasn’t felt obligated to shoo the coyotes off.

Today there was only one coyote which met this walker — the dominant coyote.  Like yesterday, the coyote “led”, or what I call “followed from in front”. That in itself may have included a message that we humans are not able to read: some kind of warning. Maybe this coyote’s behavior involves a “teasing” or “dare” that this dog is just not responding to? Today this coyote made the message stronger. It actually turned around to face the dog antagonistically: hackles up, body bent over, crouched low, teeth bared, nose wrinkled, eye openings as slits. This “display” — very similar to the classical “Halloween Cat” display — is meant to look scary in order to be effective. It is a blatant message to ward off a dog.

This dog owner told me that the coyote “followed/led”  in this manner because it could not get in back of the dog — in this case due to people, the two of us, being right in back of the dog. Apparently coyotes prefer approaching a dog from behind — this way it does not have to face a set of teeth. This coyote has approached from behind in the past and nipped this dog’s tail, and the owner assumed this was the coyote’s intention now. I actually have a video of a “friendly” version of this same behavior taken a few years ago: CURIOUS. In both the antagonistic and friendly versions of this, whenever the dog faced the coyote, the coyote ran off. In the instance today, I’m trying to understand the additional antagonism.

The dog and walker had been minding their own business today, as far as I could see. This is a dog that has never chased any coyote and has always pretty much ignored them. These coyotes and this dog have always seemed pretty accepting of each other’s presence — although possibly they are more keenly alert when each sees the other. Notwithstanding, there may have been visual communication and cues that we humans could not have discerned.  It seems obvious that this coyote had been drawn towards this dog for a specific reason. Why had the coyote so purposefully approached the dog, first “following” it and then with this antagonistic message? Might the coyote have expected the dog to show some fear, or retreat? Maybe this dog was just on the “edge” of acceptable behavior for the coyote? Most dogs would show some kind of anxiety or antagonism towards a coyote — this one did not.

When the coyote turned around to face the dog, the dog didn’t run off, but stood its own ground by facing the coyote: this has always caused the coyote to back off. Facing an animal with an intense gaze constitutes a known “challenge”. The owner called her dog and the dog came immediately to her side. A coyote will almost never come in any closer to a dog if it is right next to its owner.

The coyote, then, continued “leading” us all until we came to a cross path where it veered off. Here the coyote again put on its display for the dog, and then, when the dog turned its back on the coyote to continue down the path, the coyote went into a full chase, coming in from behind the dog. We were sure it would nip the dog’s tail, but it didn’t get to. The owner saw this and called for her dog — the coyote backed off because the owner was now right next to the dog.

Please note that this owner does not leash the dog because the dog obeys verbal commands — even in the face of a coyote. However, it was not until the coyote behavior had progressed to this point that the owner even thought of picking up a stone to dissuade the coyote. This is as far as the antagonism went — it was all bluff and displays meant to impart a message — a message to ward off the dog. However, effectively, I don’t think any long-term message was imparted at all to this dog and walker — just that the coyote might have been having a bad day.

The owner and dog, glued together, kept walking, while the coyote stayed back and watched them. I continued on with the walker and the dog. Within about 1/4 mile, we saw the coyote again. It stayed away now, possibly because there was another walker and dogs coming up another path. This dog and walker continued hiking out of the park, and I stayed back to watch what the coyote might do next.

The coyote went up a hill to observe the two unleashed dogs that appeared on the scene. These both, upon seeing the coyote, immediately pursued it. I do not understand why the owner doesn’t keep his dogs leashed in this area where his dog constantly encounters and chases a coyote. The owner was able to retrieve his dogs and leave. While doing so the coyote left the scene.

Later on I again observed this same coyote relaxing on a hill. It watched several unleashed but calm dogs on a path below, and then saw the coyote curl up so that it was barely visible — this is its normal reaction to unprovocative dogs. But then, a walker came by whose dog has gone after the coyote in the past. The dog was leashed, but the coyote decided to follow them — it hurried down the hill, keeping about 100 feet back. What was the coyote’s purpose? All I could think of was the coyote’s need to keep tabs on a dog that had previously intruded upon it — to monitor it. Maybe it just wanted to know “what are you doing and where are you going?” This coyote had definitely chosen this particular dog to follow. When the coyote came to a clearing where there were more dogs and more people, the coyote stopped to observe and then disappeared into the bushes. I did not see it again.

The “following” is very purposeful, it is from behind, and the coyote slows down at points in order not to be seen. The coyote almost always, eventually, gets noticed when it follows a dog and walker. This “following” behavior is almost exactly the same as the “leading” behavior I described above, however, in the latter case, I’m wondering if the coyote might be inviting or forcing the dog to follow it, explicitly so the coyote could impart its message? Could these be instances of a coyote’s needing to put a known dog it in its place? Or are these behaviors extensions of monitoring?

I should mention that everyone whose dog has “interacted” positively with a coyote is always so pleased that their dogs have befriended a wild animal. Beware that this might not be friendship. If it is a dominant coyote, the coyote will be antagonistic always towards ALL dogs. There is a reason: coyote packs do not allow outsiders into their groups. Outsiders create competition for territorial resources and shelter, and are a threat that might divide up the pack — and an outsider might even claim dominance.

Please notice that the photos in this posting are almost exactly the same as those in the posting: Coyote Agitated At Being Intruded Upon published May 11, 2010. The difference is that in that posting, the coyote was blatantly intruded upon. There are causes and purposes for the behaviors I’ve described today, even though I have not firmed them up fully. They are more subtle, less direct, and less readable by us humans. Any insights would be very welcome!!

Please Don’t Provoke or Taunt The Coyotes in Our Parks

Most of us love the coyotes in our parks — we get great joy out of watching them. Most of us consider ourselves lucky to get a glimpse of one when we can. On a morning walk, you might be able to pick-up on their charming display of curiosity as they watch from a distance and then appear on the path a-ways in front of you from around a bush: “where are you going, and what are you doing?” It is the dogs they are curious about. All dogs inspire curiosity in a coyote. Calm dogs leashed at their owner’s side have not presented problems: the coyote will likely duck into the bushes when it knows it has been seen. But it is different with unleashed dogs who chase, unruly exploring dogs who walk nowhere close to their owners, or dogs that growl or tug at a leash when they see a coyote. These last, either consciously or unconsciously, actually provoke a coyote. An unknowing provocation can be excused the first few times. Known provocation should be against the law.

Please read the books by Marc Bekoff about animal thinking and feelings. A good place to start, aside from the many books he has written, is his recent article of Animal Emotions: Do Animals Think and Feel?

We all have read about Tatiana, the Siberian Tiger at the San Francisco Zoo. This animal was taunted and humiliated so badly that she decided to go after her tormentors. Tatiana had only a small enclosure which was hers. All zoo animals are caged in spaces much too small for them: they are prisoners of humans who have taken them out of their natural environments and put them on display. That, in itself, is a cruel fate. But as long as they are in a zoo, they need to feel safe and peaceful in the small spaces they are given. On December 25, 2008, as the San Francisco Zoo was closing and people were leaving the exhibits, three young adult men allegedly took it upon themselves to taunt this tiger. Rumors have spread as to what they did: did they throw something at the tiger, dangle their legs in her area, urinate on her? Drugs were found in their car. Possibly it was a “dare” situation — fun and games for young adults.  Animals have strong feelings and know when they are being taunted. Animals get mad. Animals also have empathy, and a sense of fairness. Watch them — spend some time doing so. If you don’t want to watch them, read some of Marc Bekoff’s books.

There are people in our parks who refuse to leash their dogs in coyote areas — this, even though we have a leash law. The leash-law is not enforced by either our Parks Department nor by our Animal Care and Control Department — they have other things to do. In most cases, it probably doesn’t matter. But in some cases, it does. Our parks are “multi-use” parks: we have camps, recreation, schools, runners, wild-animals — our parks are not just for the dogs. Each group needs to be considerate of the others, and for the most part they are: all except a handful of dog owners who seem to believe the park is only a dog park, not a multi-use area.They don’t want to leash their dogs when a coyote might be in the area, and they don’t like coyotes in our parks.

So a couple of days ago, the same German Shepherd which has chased coyotes often, always in the same areas of the park, chased a young, curious coyote yet again. The large shepherd weights 120 pounds, the young coyote 25. Mistakes happen now and then, and we all hope that those exposed to one coyote incident might become more sensitive to the situation and do their best to avoid another — simply by leashing in the immediate area. It is always the human owner who is at fault for not leashing the dog. In this particular case, the owners allowed their huge unleashed dog to go after the young coyote as the owners themselves stood back and watched and laughed. The coyote re-appeared right after this initial chase, and the scene was repeated, laughter and all.

This constitutes provocation and taunting. Other instances of provocation I have seen in the last few days are rather baffling to me. One man, who last year allowed his own dog to interact with and “play” with a coyote, has now done an about-face regarding coyotes in our parks — he wants to get rid of them. He now includes a large, always unleashed, hunting dog on his walks — even though I have seen that his own dog has been sometimes leashed recently. The man slings a ball for this dog in a known coyote area. There is hyperactivity involved in a dog’s chasing a ball; hyperactivity is distressing for coyotes. Coyotes are disturbed by hyperactivity. Playing “catch” in a coyote area is a provoking action that we can all easily avoid engaging in.

Charming Curiosity!

As I, along with a dog and its owner, headed out for an early hike, this young coyote appeared on a hill way ahead looking at us. As we got closer we noted that it’s eyes actually were on the dog — of course, coyotes are especially curious about dogs. I snapped a few photos and we went on. I looked back, and the coyote had disappeared. We walked for about half a mile when we again saw this same coyote — this time peeking at us from around a bush! It was really very charming!  It must have gone around another way, but following us nonetheless to find out where were were going and what we were doing. Seeing that we had eyed it, it again vanished into thin air. We walked on until my friend left the park. I followed the same path back. A sprinkling of other dogs had come into the area, and now I found this coyote curiously watching the show from high up on another hill. It was so delightful to watch this yearling behave as the curious the little twerp that he was!! We have a lot of affectionate names for our coyotes!

Health Problems

Until now, our coyotes have always appeared extremely healthy.

Now, however, a coyote in one of our parks has mange and intestinal parasites as indicated by bare patches on its neck and continual scooting on the ground.

I know of one mother coyote who has had litters for the past two years, but not this year.

And another coyote is looking extremely thin irregardless of seasonal shedding. Please note the alarming difference between the second photo above, and the last two photos. These photos are of the same coyote. I’ve heard you can identify a coyote by its tail — these photos show that you cannot necessarily do so. The difference in lighting conditions accounts for some of the variation in hue — but not for the look of emaciation. The second photo was taken within the last few days — this is how this coyote appears now. The last two photos were taken 7 and 5 months ago. Of course, maybe the extreme healthiness of this coyote half a year ago is what should be alarming to us: I’ve never seen such a healthy looking wild coyote! It was not until I noticed such a drastic change  that health questions have come to my mind.

What is going on here? Are these normal health problems for urban coyotes? Can they recover on their own? Could humans be causing them? I was wondering if the poisons — those used by our Parks and Rec Department to control and destroy plants they don’t want — have been compromising the immune systems of these animals? I know that our park service uses poisons routinely, and I know that park volunteers have been handed bottles of Round-Up which they use at their own discretion and without supervision. Might poisons be affecting our coyotes either directly or indirectly? For instance, what is the effect of these poisons on the voles and gophers and even snails, all of which coyotes eat. It would be helpful to find out what health problems we humans are causing, and what we can prevent. The scat I’m finding seems to be plentiful and very furry — this is what it should be. I’m hoping to find out more.

All In An Hour: Snippets of Coyote Behavior

I was able to see some interesting behavior today — all within about an hour! Each of these observations coincides with one row of three photos above.

I saw a shy, yearling coyote join its mother on a lookout rock above a trail. But the young one didn’t stay long: its self-protective instincts are strong. A dog walker and his leashed dog came in their direction. The walkers did not see the coyotes, and even if they had, they were 50 feet below the ledge where the coyotes were and could not have reached the coyotes. The minute the young coyote saw them, it took off, lickity-split, and I did not see it again. I’ve seen this coyote flee quickly when it thinks it has been seen!

The other coyote stayed relaxed and calm, watching the occasional walker go by below. This coyote was actually on the edge of another, higher, less used path. Today, someone came walking along this path. The coyote bolted into the shadows only 5 feet away, but it did not run off. The walker walked on without ever seeing the coyote. The coyote watched the walker leave, and then it went back to its previous resting spot.

I noticed tongues today — tongues sticking out. I have noticed this before in conjunction with both dogs and coyotes who were concentrating intently on each other as they tested each other face to face. I wonder if there is a correlation with concentration and possibly even making a split-second decision? The coyote in the 3rd photo appears to be just “licking its chops”, I think.

Coyotes are extremely attuned to the dogs and walkers that have confronted them. Coyotes have the same anger and fears that humans have. Few humans are willing to recognize this, but one only has to observe to see it. So when a woman and her unruly, unleashed dog walked by on the path below, this coyote became very agitated. This dog has chased the coyote, and the woman throws stones at it. First the coyote stood up to watch the two approach. When they were directly below, the coyote began grunting its displeasure and almost began a barking session. The coyote was preparing itself for the habitual antagonistic behavior from the dog and walker. The woman and dog walked on without going after the coyote, so the coyote calmed down and remained in this spot a little bit longer before moving on.

I then followed this coyote a short distance as it poked its nose into the ground now and then. While it was doing so, I noticed two squirrels playing at the base of a tree. Just as I was wondering why the coyote had not seen them, the coyote did notice them and ran to the trunk of the tree. It sat there a few minutes, but obviously could not climb straight up a trunk, as the squirrels had.

Maybe this had inspired this coyote, because then I watched it climb a tree! This was not a totally vertical tree. Rather, it had grown at an angle such that a coyote could walk up it and search for squirrels. There were none. The coyote in the tree was about ten feet off the ground.

The Coyote “Wild Barrier” Is Breaking Down in Our Parks

Habituation — a certain familiarity — occurs when species are put into close contact with each other, as they are in our urban parks. Our aim should be to keep this familiarity at a minimum, so as to insure safety and to prevent conflict — to create a peaceful coexistence for everyone involved: for dogs, humans and coyotes. To achieve this requires a little effort on the part of everybody.

For the most part, coyotes in the city are considered to be more of a nuisance than actually a threat. Coyotes may be considered a nuisance simply by being seen, even without evidence of having done anything — this is not true of other urban wildlife. There are misconceptions and fears regarding coyotes because people are not familiar with their normal behavior: people don’t know what to expect from coyotes, and they don’t know what is expected of themselves. Education at all levels may aid coexistence.

First, it is important to know that coyote attacks are extremely rare, but they are possible. Like any wild animal, coyotes may behave unpredictably when cornered, sick or hurt. If a coyote appears threatening to you, you need to scare it off. I have heard of coyote aggression towards humans only when a coyote has come to associate humans with food. Please never feed a coyote, and never leave pet food outside.

Humans need and want to keep a safe distance from coyotes. A coyote’s natural wariness of humans has always been maintained except when dogs are involved. The closest I’ve seen coyotes come to humans is when there is a dog problem.

This occurs when a dog chases a coyote, or when a dog comes in too close to a coyote or even when there is visual contact/communication between the two which is almost always of an aggressive or threatening nature — this last occurs even with leashed dogs. The natural “wild barrier” between dogs and coyotes is broken down whenever there is “interaction” or “engagement” of this sort between the two. “Mutually engaged” means “mutually focused” on each other. A coyote remembers these incidents. The door has now been opened for future coyote/dog interactions — which bring the coyote into more frequent and closer proximity to humans.

So, habituation appears to involve a chain reaction. We need to prevent it on all levels. Coyotes will adapt in the way they need to to survive and to feel safe. Coyotes will defend themselves against dogs, and they may eventually take the initiative to prevent future threats towards themselves from particular dogs. Coyote/dog interactions always bring coyotes close to humans.

By the way, since coyotes carry diseases and parasites, if your pet is bitten, please follow an intense cleansing procedure and contact a veterinarian.

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