Sprained Ligaments and Other Hazards Of The Out-Of-Doors Affect Us All

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This is Molly. Molly was running in an open field when her foot got caught in a gopher hole. She began limping. Her owner took her to the vet where they learned Molly had sprained a ligament in her arm. After about four days, with rest and time, the limp slowly wore off and Molly went back to living as she had before her injury.

Injuries that are common to dogs are also common to coyotes. But time and rest are not so available to wild animals who must continue to hunt and protect themselves, come rain or shine or disease or injury. It’s why most coyotes don’t live beyond about 5 years of age on average, even though their full natural life span could be as long as 14 years. Dogs, of course, with state-of-art medical care can expect to live out their lives almost to the end of what is genetically expected for their breed. Humans, too, are aided by state-of-art medical aid.

Only a couple of generations ago, if a human fell and broke a hip or injured a knee or broke a leg, it was “the beginning of the end”. You lived with your injury, hobbling around with a cane if you were lucky. Being bed-ridden was the clincher — it caused pneumonia, atrophy and all sorts of other problems which often led to a premature death. Luckily, this isn’t so anymore.

I’m having my turn at this now. Scrambling around the parks doing my coyote observation work — in fact, doing what any other coyote or dog might be doing in a park — I myself sustained a debilitating injury: I was hurriedly descending a steep incline covered with tangled brambles. I didn’t trip in that booby trap, but I must have come down wrong on the leg or twisted it as I descended ski-fashion.

I could feel something was wrong, but it didn’t hurt much at first, so I pushed my luck rather than take a break. I should have done what Molly did. Instead, I continued, like a coyote. Within a couple of weeks, as I walked carefully so as to avoid pain, I heard a “POW” and fell to the ground — I could not walk another step and the pain was excruciating. It was already dusk. I wondered how I would get out of the park. I was too proud to scream for help. So I found two sticks to lean on and inched my way out of the park — about 500 feet took me over an hour.

X-rays showed I had perfect bones — I was told to wait it out. But my friends all told me to demand an MRI. I finally did, and discovered that my meniscus was a mess of rips and even the root was torn apart. Dogs and coyotes also have meniscus injuries. My prognosis: knee replacement within a year if I didn’t have the meniscus repaired. Isn’t that called Hobson’s Choice?

2016-01-15I had state-of-the-art surgery and had to remain off the knee for six weeks. I wore a full-leg-length brace and hobbled around on crutches, with the warning words ringing in my ear, “You have one chance at this — the minimal tissue in the root won’t allow a second repair — if you mess it up, you’ll have to have knee replacement.” When you live for being out-of-doors, it’s excruciatingly difficult to take “time out”. Fortunately, my hiatus is up. I’ve missed only the coyote mating season. I’ll be out there observing within the week, though full recovery will take many months. I’ve been thinking about coyote leg injuries. Coyotes can’t afford to take an extended “time out” to heal, nor do they have doctors to help the healing process.  But they do have four legs instead of two which allows them some “wiggle room” for recovery. I was just sent a video of a coyote using three legs. Although the coyote was somewhat hampered, he was not incapacitated, and he kept up with the other coyotes.


A Peek At Some Courting Behavior

The courting behavior of these coyotes usually entails the fellow following and keeping tabs on his gal. She is more aloof than he is, but she seems to like his attention — as long as it’s a “hands-off” affair. Not until her cycle is ready for him will she permit very close contact. This sequence of photos, taken during an extended observation period in January, illustrates this behavior.

So many photos: I find individual photos much more revealing than a video — they stop the action and let me reflect on what is going on. I tend to click continuously as I observe, which allows me to record the whole story, and allows me to review what happened in a short amount of time which wouldn’t be true for a video recording. I then simply pick out whichever photos tell the story. My trouble is in eliminating some of the photos for my story! So, there are a lot of photos here — hope you aren’t overwhelmed!

The male of this pair was up before dawn overseeing his domain — performing sentry duty. The female soon appeared and greeted him with a quick acknowledgement  in the form of grooming. But when he then approached her a little too intimately with his head over her back, she flung around and faced him standoffishly. He backed off and she then wandered away, and he followed at a non-confining distance. (See below)

They kept stopping and staring at each other for long periods of time at about 100 feet apart: her need was to keep her distance from him; his was to keep tabs on her. (Photos below)

After interminable staring, she walked on, turning around repeatedly to watch what he was doing, maybe to see if he was following, and, indeed, he followed her. (Below)

Then he suddenly swerved off of her trail — he had found something: a gopher. She noticed this from a rock in the distance and yawned in pretend-disinterest. He settled down to eat his gopher. She tried to look disinterested, but I noticed that she peeked at him before lying down on the rock with her back towards him. Below

He finished his meal, urinated (marked) on the spot, and trotted over to be closer to her. She looked away uninterested. So he settled down not too close, and not too far away — about fifteen feet away and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. I think her need was for him to respect a certain distance. Once she was happy with him showing this respect, she felt free to move around. She finally got up and stretched, ho-hum, ever so casually, like he didn’t matter, shook off the rain and walked over to where he had eaten his gopher. He watched her go, and soon got up and followed.

She walked on and this time he approached her — too closely this time. He attempted making contact by again putting his head over her back. She would have none of it. She flinched, brushed him off, and sat down, with her ears back: “NO”. He had no choice but to walk on and she watched him go. (See below)

He then walked to the rock on which she had been lying. It’s as though they were each checking out every detail about the other — coyotes can pick up a lot of information with their nostrils. He again looked over at her and she at him. See below.

This is when a couple of walkers with their dogs chanced by. The dogs were leashed and the group walked on, but the coyotes had been interrupted. They now ceased their standoffish behavior toward each other and followed the walkers at a distance, sniffing out everywhere that the dog had stopped. See below

The coyote pair stopped following as the walkers distanced themselves — the people and their dog were not interested in the coyotes, and this is all the coyotes wanted to know. The male urinated his displeasure when a runner went by, and the female just settled down to watch the male coyote who took off into the distance. She watched him go and then got up, nonchalantly stretched in her ho-hum manner, and disappeared into the bushes at about the same time that her mate disappeared from view.

Romancing Time Is About Over For Coyotes This Year

Coyote mated pair hunt together.

Coyote mated pair hunt together in January.

Our Valentine’s Day pretty much marks the end of romancing and mating season for coyotes, which may last from January through most of February here in San Francisco. Coyotes — unusually, both the guys and the gals — become fertile only once a year. Females come into estrus during this one season only, and males produce sperm only at this same time of year. So, much of coyote time is spent raising their youngsters rather than simply producing more pups. Both parents raise the young, and family life is at the heart of their lives.

The pair above produced one pup last year. By all standards, that’s a small litter, which may be due to any number of reasons or combination of reasons: It was this mom’s first litter. She is very young. There has been a drought (a four-year drought) — limited resources impact reproduction. And territories in San Francisco may be at their saturation point, which also impacts reproduction. Remember that San Francisco is practically an island, with water on three sides. Coyotes can’t really expand out very far, so the population is limited from actually growing too much.

Wolves, according to Carl Safina (whose recent book, Beyond Words, I highly recommend), will kill each other to get rid of rivals and the competition in a claimed territory, even family members. I’ve seen some really “beat up” coyotes which clearly could have been the result of territorial and mate competition. I wonder if coyotes engage in the same type of elimination process as wolves do. I have not been able to find any literature about it. I heard one speaker suggest that coyotes (as wolves) will kill another’s pups for competitive reasons. I’ve not been able to verify if this statement is true.

Connecting With Animals: Anthropomorphizing

I’ve been mulling over the concept of “anthropomorphizing”: attributing human feelings and emotions to animals and inanimate objects. And yes, it’s true that the wind and the pumpkins in these photos do not actually have the human attributes we humans have assigned to them — these are indeed anthropomorphisms.

However, I see many emotions and much intelligence and rampant individuality in the coyotes I observe, and many of these characteristics are similar if not the same ones we humans have. I’m not arbitrarily imposing uniquely-human characteristics — anthropomorphizing — on these animals. Rather, I recognize, as do many observers, drives and behaviors which are clearly similar to ours. As animals ourselves, we share some basic characteristics with other animals, including the need to eat, sleep, self-protect, raise our young, care for one another, defend families. I’m saying that behind these activities lie the same feelings, sensations and emotions which make us engage in these things: hunger, sleepiness, care, love, anger. You can’t truly understand these animals until you recognize the similarities, and then magic and real understanding open up. I’ve come to see coyotes as living lives different from ours, but parallel to our own — not dissimilar from the Hobbits over in the Shire.

Anyone who has a dog knows animals are bundles of emotions, yet some animal behaviorists are reluctant to admit this because their disciplines don’t allow it –there’s little way to determine it under controlled laboratory conditions and no way to quantify it, and also, they want humans to stand alone at the apex, as unique in the world, in the “Aristotelian” model which became woven into the doctrine of the church, where Man stood apart — Man alone had been made in the image of God. Anthropocentrism places humans at the center of the world saying we are the only ones with emotions, brains, etc, and that we can’t possibly attribute these to other species because we can’t prove it.

But we can’t even exactly define our own human emotions — this doesn’t mean we don’t have them!  The “love” you have for someone is totally different from the “love” I have for someone, and your “love” for the out-of-doors is not the same as your “love” for your child.

Psychologists, on the other hand, as opposed to animal behaviorists, know animals have similar emotions to humans, and have even used animal studies — often cruel studies — to understand human behaviors, such as the effects of early maternal deprivation on the human psyche.

In the same vein, and on the flip side of the coin, I think it’s telling that humans like measuring animals’ intelligences based on our own unique standards which we presume to be at the top of a pyramid. For instance, learning and manipulating symbols or the use of language as we human animals use it, is often considered the summit of intelligence. Behaviorists have written about the monkey who could learn and manipulate 400 symbols, on a screen or as objects — the bright little bugger! Haven’t humans shown their OWN limitations by their anthropocentrism there? In fact, if we were to use a chimpanzee standard on ourselves, there are instances where we might fall far below on the intelligence scale. For instance, chimps have a far superior short-term memory to that of humans, as shown by their consistent ability to reproduce ten items on a screen from memory whereas humans cannot. And they can be better at strategic reasoning than are humans, as seen in a recent study led by Tetsuro Matsuzawa of the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute. See www. Animals.io9.com.

It is only very recently that humans have begun cracking the Rosetta Stone of animal communication, emotion and their amazing intelligence. By embracing a world order which created a strong divide between humans and other critters in regards to intelligence and feelings, we limited our own ability to learn more about both these other animals and ourselves. When it comes to the idea of human supremacy, we humans have a history of sidelining and persecuting those offering new discoveries that turn established doctrine on its head: Galileo with his telescopes proved Copernicus’ discoveries that it was not the earth (and by extension, Man), which was the center of the universe, but rather the sun around which other planets revolved. The Inquisition put Galileo under house arrest for the rest of his life and forced him to recant. Society was not ready to accept it. Now that we have begun, barely begun, this investigation, we are making astonishing discoveries about animals, and we are surprised and incredulous. For instance, in the realm of emotions and memory, elephants come out way ahead of humans (and so do octopi).

Two coyotes approach and help another coyote who showed signs of irritation and distress on her neck area

Two coyotes approach and help another coyote who showed signs of irritation and distress on her neck area

In writing up my observations I include shared characteristics, feelings, and behaviors that I observe. This helps people better understand and relate to the animals. People tend to care about what they can relate to. As I said above, there is still a divide between scientists — between animal behaviorists who don’t want to assign emotions and intelligence and individuality, and psychologists who do. My thought is that you can begin from the premise that animals and humans do have the same drives and feelings, or you can begin from the premise that they are completely dissimilar. It’s hard to prove either premise quantitatively, but simple observation will show you incredible similarities if you are willing to take the time to really look and understand.

Two coyotes snuggle together, one affectionately licking the others' ear

Two coyotes snuggle together, one affectionately licking the other’s ear

Coyote Youngsters In San Francisco in January

Nine month old coyote pup

Nine month old coyote pup

Youngsters are approaching 10 months of age here in San Francisco. Above is a photo of one of them. They are still slightly smaller than adult coyotes, but seen alone, most folks would not be able to tell the difference.

Coyote youngster hides behind bushes

Coyote youngster hides behind bushes

If you are lucky enough to observe them in action, you will find that their behavior gives away their young age: they are more flighty, erratic, awkward, zippy and distrustful than older coyotes. They are curious but most likely will observe folks and dogs from behind a bush and at a substantial distance, as seen in this photo to the right.

Coyotes tend to play with their siblings, unless it is an “only child” — I’ve observed several one-pup families in San Francisco — in which case they play with a parent. Play is their main interest and occupation, and when they are together, they are constantly and joyfully playing roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble wrestle, chase and tug-of-war.

Youngsters are also good at entertaining themselves. I’ve seen individual youngsters play with an abandoned tennis ball for over 20 minutes, bounce themselves down a hill repeatedly, chase their tail — no different from your own pet.  They can also be seen practicing their hunting skills alone, though with substantially less aplomb than an adult.

Even if you don’t see a parent around, a parent is very likely to be close by keeping an eye on things, just in case a dog might try chasing. A parent will run in to its pups’ rescue if it feels the youngsters are being at all threatened. Youngsters normally take cues for their own behavior from the parent who is nearby.

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