A Playground With A Cache Of Toys

Coyotes appear to have “playgrounds”. The one I came across here had various objects which I’ve seen coyotes play with: objects left behind by humans and dogs, and even some of nature itself. Most of the objects were dismembered balls of various types, but also there was a stick, a piece of cork, the finger of a gardener’s glove which I watched being chewed when it was still attached to the glove, a pine cone, the stuffing of a doll which I observed chewed in another location, a dead bird, a piece of cloth, shredded garden “flags”. That there are favorite play areas is very interesting. But also, that there is a cache of toys. We know that coyotes are very aware of their environment: they are very aware of every individual person and every single dog that passes through their territories. But also, that they are aware of new objects left behind by humans, and they are curious about these. Picking them up and playing with them is a way to find out about them.

The idea of a “cache” of items drew my attention because of an article I read not long ago. The March 2010 National Geographic features an article on “Wolf Wars: Once Protected, Now Hunted,” by Douglas H. Chadwick. There is a quote on page 54: “The [wolf] pack has dragged in ceramic shards, cans, pots, pieces of iron tools from abandoned homesteads in the park. Canine junk collectors. Who knew?”  “Wow!”, I thought to myself. I’ve now seen a coyote cache of toys! Do coyotes, too, “collect” things? Or were these things just brought to a “favorite spot” — a playground — to play with?

There is another quote on the same page which serves as a departure for further thought on coexistence: “Large mammals are learning and changing their behavior all the time: deer, bears, wolves, [coyotes] and yes, humans, too.”  We can all modify our behavior enough so that the environment may include us all. We should be open to the fact that coyotes and humans can and do adapt fairly easily to each other. Of course, the immigrants — the newcomers, have always had a hard time because of conservative forces that are afraid of change: there is an “ecology of fear.” Coyote behavior doesn’t warrant this fear. The effort we need to expend on them is minimal: awareness, respect, securing our pets and garbage and not letting our dogs threaten these newcomers. If a coyote becomes a nuisance, it can probably be remedied by a mild alteration in our own behavior. It is our behavior — leaving pet food out, leaving trash cans open, leaving our pets out, and letting our dogs chase them — which, inadvertently as it may be, causes problems in the first place.

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