Coyotes In The News?

I listened to a recent news story about coyotes. The news spot reported that a woman “believed” her cat was taken by a coyote. That a coyote actually took the cat was not observed, but since there are coyotes in the area, the coyotes were blamed.

The track record for the news media concerning coyotes seems to follow this general pattern. When coyotes are reported by the media, the stories are sensationalist and fear-provoking. Just by being around, with no evidence to prove it, coyotes are often blamed for problems that they have never been connected to. But the news doesn’t let the facts interfere with what they consider a good story.

People against the coyotes are driven by rumors and fears: they latch onto whatever feeds their point of view. This entire TV news spot was created based on this approach. The basis of the story was what a woman “believed”, and this was based on her personal preconceived prejudices. And the news report was full of  inaccuracies.

Foremost, the story exploded the number of coyotes from three to seven. Since two howling coyotes can sound like many more, this is what fed the new rumor.  An excited, but irresponsible observer announced that she “could distinguish seven voices.” The rumor spread and was irresponsibly reported on this news station without checking this out.

Then by questioning the “safety of our children” the news station fanned additional fears about coyotes. The fact is, coyotes have never approached people in our parks. Before running off, a coyote might stand in a path to see what is going on, but that is as close as a coyote has ever allowed a person to come to it. Actual parents, those who have children, have not joined the hysteria against the resident coyotes. The one human activity that could lead to aggression is feeding, but everyone knows this and everyone makes an effort to strictly keep this from happening.

To get a more realistic view of how most walkers perceive coyotes, try canvasing for opinions. Almost everyone is thrilled with the coyotes and considers it a real treasure to have them in our parks. Everyone knows that if you leave the coyotes alone, they will leave you alone. The few perceived coyote problems have actually been created by one small group of dog owners who do not wish to leash their dogs and whose dogs have gone after the coyotes.  Allow your dog to chase a coyote, especially if it is a parent coyote and pack leader, and it may return to defend itself. Not only will it do so at the time of being chased, but it will remember the specific dog involved for a long time to come, and it will be ready to make its own “statement” whenever it happens to see this dog for the next little while. Coyotes do not want to be chased. Fortunately our Department of Animal Care and Control allows coyotes to defend themselves from such aggressions — even if the “aggression” was intended as fun and games by the dog.

Please take a look at some of the behavior postings in this blog: they are almost all supported by photographs. Coyotes are not malicious: if they were to be put in trial, and all evidence listened to, they would come out way ahead in people’s minds. But with coyotes, there never is a trial, only a final firing squad. Please get to know them: they are amazingly intelligent, warm and fair-minded themselves.

One reason a news station might proceed with this kind of a story is that the media very often relies on sensationalist material — that is what sells: who is going to watch your program if everything is fine at the OK Corral? But this is irresponsible journalism: facts must be checked out, views should be balanced and a story should not be based on one woman’s personal “belief”. Let’s give equal time to how the rest of us see coyotes and their behavior, and to the experiences we have had when we come across one.

I’ve read where newspapers are “not here to report the news, but to form the public’s opinion, very often with misinformation.” The problem is that inciting fear and hysteria is not helping anyone except the newspaper itself.

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