Frantic Concern for an Injured Sibling

I hadn’t seen one of the youngster I’ve been documenting for a couple of days and when I did, on February 12th, he held up a dangling front leg. That explained his absence. Leg injuries are the most common I see in coyotes, many of them are caused by dogs chasing them. As here, injury often causes coyotes to become more cautious and self-protective by withdrawing from where they might be seen. With dogs wanting to chase them, it was best to remain hidden most of the time.

A couple of days later, the injured male youngster returned to one of his hangout spots, but he kept close to bushes where he could seek refuge if needed. A day later I decided to get a video of the injury to send it to my wildlife veterinarian friend. While getting that video, I also documented the frantic anxiety of a sibling female who was worried about her injured brother. The above graphic video, which I’ve captioned with explanatory text, is what I observed.

Few people realize how intensely sentient and feeling these animals are. That they are family minded animals who have caring individual relationships. They have direction and purpose in their lives. They experience joy, sorrow, and most other feelings that you and I feel, including frantic anxiety and concern for a valued sibling. These are things I’ve seen repeatedly through hours of observing them. I don’t expect most people will have the time or opportunity to see directly what I see, but that’s why I’m posting about it: for everyone to become aware of. On this subject, here is a two-minute message from Jane Goodall which, although inspired by the coronavirus, contains words of wisdom that we all need to listen to.

By February 20th, which was ten days after the injury occurred, I was still seeing no improvement in the limp. The veterinarian gave me a general assessment from the video I took. She said, “It looks like he could have a radial nerve injury from the way he is dragging the leg but flexing his elbow. It could also be a fracture in the carpus or paw, but if so, I would expect it to look more painful and for him to be holding it off the ground rather than dragging it on the ground.”

The vet and I agreed that whatever course the injury was to take, it was best to leave the coyote alone and let nature run its course. Many people feel they need to “help” an injured animal. This is rarely so unless the animal is actually immobile or incapacitated. Nature is always the best healer for wildlife, even if the animal could end up as tri-pawed: coyotes are amazingly adaptable [see story of Peg Leg]. Trapping and confining are terrorizing for the animal, even if we humans might want to believe “it is for the animal’s own good”. In addition, removing an animal from its territory and social situation can inexorably alter their lives — they can’t simply be “put back” and be expected to carry on as before. We don’t really have a handle on all the infinite facets that are involved in interfering, even if our intentions are good ones. So if nature can heal, which it can in most cases, it should be left to do so. Mange is a different story, but there’s now a way of treating this in the field with no more interference than simply medication administered in some left-out food! — I’ll be writing about this soon.

This same type of frantic anxious concern displayed by this female sibling for her brother can be seen in another example, displayed by an older female for her younger male companion: Anxious and Scared for His Safety.

I kept monitoring and assessing the youngster’s leg situation. Almost a month after that injury, on March 8, I finally saw that some mending had taken place: nature had been working its magic! The coyote was finally putting weight on that leg. He did so ever so carefully and gingerly, but he was doing it.


And by March 15th, the leg looked recuperated and the fellow is walking normally, as videoed by my friend Eric Weaver!

I hope this posting serves as an example of how great a healer nature is [see another example here]. But also it should serve to show how incredibly feeling these animals are. By the way, sister is still keeping an eye on brother over her shoulder, and he’s also watching out for her, but there’s no more urgency or anxiety involved!

keeping an eye on him over her shoulder

It’s A Small World After All

A couple of days ago I visited the Presidio of San Francisco. I haven’t been going there regularly because the ecologist there is already monitoring those coyotes, but I went this time to check on the coyote I’ve labeled “Wired” — she had been radio-collared over a year ago. I heard she had moved in there and kicked out the previous family. This coyote indeed is a “toughy”. She is of special interest to me:  I had watched her wreak havoc on another coyote (who I’ve been documenting since her birth in 2015) and then pursue that coyote throughout the city for 6 months.

Second pair of coyotes in the Park

Initially I did not find the coyote I was looking for. Instead I found another pair of coyotes who looked surprisingly familiar. I’m trying to “place” their relationship among the coyotes I know. I generally can do so by watching visually for nuclear family similarities which I then hope to confirm with DNA analysis results.

I have been collecting DNA extracted from scat samples since 2008, to (among other things) help confirm my observations about relationships and movements throughout the city. The DNA analysis (Ben Sacks, Monica Serrano, et. al., UC Davis, 2020) has already shown that our present SF coyote population of 60 to 100 coyotes all came from just FOUR founding coyotes originating in Mendocino County: It appears that our SF coyote population is indeed inbred as I’ve noted and has not been augmented from the South.

Wired ran by — she’s radio-collared

When he looked at me I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was this Puff?

A couple of days later I returned to the Presidio and this time was rewarded with the appearance of Wired and her new mate! Wired hurried by with the male following close behind — she is obviously the leader of the pair. And then her mate turned around and looked at me. When you come across an old friend you haven’t seen in ages, in an odd place, your response might be, “Wow, it really is a small world!” This has happened to me with coyotes, and it just happened again! I could hardly believe my eyes! This appears to be the coyote I had labeled “Puff”. The label is based on his appearance and is used to differentiate him from his siblings when I write about them.

He was born in the spring of 2017 in a park that is not far off [I don’t state exact locations on this blog]. I’m including several photos of him (above) taken before he dispersed from his birthplace, along with photos of his mother and father on their territory there. I have DNA from these coyotes — I collect it right after it is expelled in most instances, so I know which coyote belongs to which sample. These will be used to confirm my visual/photographed observations. Puff has proved himself to be as much of a toughy as is Wired, having joined a brother to forcefully and viciously drive out a third brother from their birthplace in August of 2018, something I was able to observe. That’s how dispersal works.

It’s great to see Puff now paired up with a like-minded female (two toughies) and they appear to be the reigning alphas of their territory. It’s exciting to see these coyotes’ lives develop beyond their dispersal, something I’ve been able to do with only a handful of them so far. I don’t yet know what their relationship is with the other resident pair. They use some of the same territorial pathways, which I’m sure has significance for determining what the relationship is.

These two pairs may in fact be closely related. I say this, because otherwise, I believe, Wired and Puff would have driven out that second pair, but they have not. The previous Presidio pair along with their offspring were driven out. My continuing DNA study will confirm what their relationship is if I don’t figure it out beforehand.

So far, none of the coyotes I’ve been able to follow after their dispersal from their birthplaces has produced any offspring. Maybe Wired and Puff will produce the first 3rd generation that I’ll be able to keep tabs on! And there’s the possibility for a next generation in one other dispersed female I keep tabs on. We’ll just have to wait and see. Although I’ve watched yet another family through four generation (parents of parents of parents), there, the breeding pairs, one after the other, have remained stable and on their original territory the entire time — in fact for 13 years so far.

More recent movements within the city:

Among the four youngsters I’ve watched grow-up and then been pleasantly-surprised to see in other parks, are two that I’ve already written about, though I may not have used these labels: Scout and Hunter.

In addition to these dispersals, I’ve also seen family members travel large distances within the city to “pay a visit” or “check on” their dispersed youngsters (Maeve, Yote). I’ll soon be writing about a Dad who was just kicked out of his most recent territory and returned to where his youngsters were living. This male and his mate had dispersed from that territory (where the two youngsters remained), rather than the offspring (who did not leave/disperse) — it’s an interesting twist in things. Some family connections seem to be maintained over a great many years and over long distances.

By the way, Wired was in Puff’s birth-territory for awhile when he was still there. I don’t know if she is related to him, but there has been a long-standing association. I’ve also seen two other Presidio coyotes at Puff’s birth-territory. I wonder what the special tie is between these two family groups.


Endnotes: It’s very satisfying to have one’s visual observations confirmed by hard data (DNA). “Science” tends to accept only hard data, not visual data, though I have my photographs which indeed show connections. Incidentally, I do not use gadgets such as radio-collars or tags, which I think are harmful. I recognize coyote facially and can follow them that way, using sequences of photos to study any details. Except in a few instances, the coyotes I document are all labeled based on their appearance so I can readily know who they are.

Presentation at China Camp State Park

I’ve again been invited to give this presentation, this time at the China Camp State Park. For more information, press the above image or press the link here. Again, this will encompass the same information presented at PHS/SPCA on October 18th.

More Infection From Tagging

These photos were taken in the Presidio of San Francisco on February 19th by EEHelton and posted in iNaturalist. The Presidio is the only place in San Francisco where tagging is done. This is an obvious example of an infected ear caused by tags. I know this female coyote who was perfectly fine only a month before these photos were taken — an infection can occur long after the tags are initially inserted. Human intervention of any kind causes the greatest harm to these animals. Human desire for information should never trump the the well-being of the animals themselves. Please, let’s leave the animals alone. What we want to know can be gleaned from simple observations.

Making Peace With Coyotes, by Tripp Robbins

More and more articles about coyotes are appearing which give a more rounded view of coyotes along with useful guidelines for coexistence. These are replacing the sensationalist and fear-provoking writeups which predominated only a few years ago. Thank you, Tripp Robbins and Half-Moon Bay Review for your contribution in this direction! [Press image to the left to read the article, or use the embedded version below]

[*One clarification: I’ve actually been studying/documenting many more than just one coyote family here in San Francisco over the last 13 years. It’s been as high as 11 locations and as many as seven families at one time. I’m limiting myself to four families in-depth these days, and a simple “check-in” with the others: if I see something exciting occurring in those where I simply check-in, I dive in deeper there.]

Dad Exercises His Control

I had been watching a 10-month-old coyote youngster — I’ll call him “Sibling” here — behave rather hesitantly — maybe apprehensively. Instead of venturing forth to hunt, as was his habit, he was sitting and simply watching — in fact, watching one spot in the distance — as if waiting for something to emerge or appear. The evening rendezvous would soon begin, but why the apprehension? The rendezvous is the evening meetup where, after sleeping usually in somewhat separate locations, the coyotes come together to meet and greet and interact, usually joyfully with wiggles, body hugs, reaffirmations of statuses and squeals of excitement.

I turned away to speak to someone, and when I turned back, there was Brother, lying over him. ‘On top’ is usually dominance in the coyote world. I missed seeing their initial greeting, but I sensed that the first hint of rivalry might be creeping into their interactions — even if ever so mildly at this point. These eventually lead to discord. Dad, of course, can sense these things in their subtlest form and way before I’m able to pick up on them. He will interfere to control it: Dad is the apha when it comes to his offspring. The video captures this.

I’ve incorporated some of this posting as captions into this video clip to explain what is going on.

Sibling takes Brother’s rough and overpowering behavior  in stride — he nuzzles his Brother. All is well between them.

In the next scene, Brother has found a dead mole lying around and subtlelly provokes Sibling to react: “Haha, look what I have.” Sibling is not so sure he wants to enter into this rivalrous game. He hesitates and looks away at first, but then rises to the bait and some fun begins. They chase and then this turns into a tug-of-war.

Just then Dad rushes in — he knows his youngsters well and Brother has been more uppitty than usual lately. Dad needs to keep the nascent rivalry in check. He has to be firmly in control always, and use physical power when his youngsters don’t readily submit to him.

Brother immediately hits the ground submissively when he sees Dad, which causes him to let go of the mole. Sibling slithers away with the mole. Dad is surprised to see him slither away like that, as you can see in the video. He stands over Brother for a moment, but soon Brother also is able to escape his Dad’s grasp. As far as the youngsters are concerned, Dad’s behavior is standard and pro-forma — they don’t appear to be much concerned about it.

But Dad didn’t get the submission he wanted — especially from Brother. Dad immediately heads for Brother and puts him down and keeps him down this time. [If you are quick enough to notice, you’ll see that as Sibling runs away from Dad and Brother, he picks up the mole that had been taken back by Brother during the split second when the camera was not focused on him]. After what seems like an interminable time, Brother again slips away from Dad again, but within a minute, Dad is again standing over him.

Notice that Sibling uses the occasion of his brother’s being restrained to repeatedly flip his mole into the air tauntingly — he knows Brother can’t do anything to get the mole back because he’s under Dad’s thumb. This time, when Dad leaves, Brother remains lying down. This, apparently, satisfies Dad’s requirement. But that’s the end of the mole game.

Finally 10-month-old sister joins the group. Dad demands her submissiveness, but he treats her in a much milder way than her brothers. After she respectfully stoops to his bidding, the family runs off for their evening trekking.