Death at Dawn

I’m entitling this posting, “Death at Dawn”. Of course, I have no idea exactly what time of day this coyote died, but I chose to say “dawn” because really, it appears to have died at the dawn of its life, not at its sunset: it appears to be a juvenile, judging by the length of its snout. Death is of course part of life and something we all come to. When we are worn out, we come to it easily — see Walkaboutlou’s posting: The Story of one of my Oldest Coyotes, but most of us fight it to the end — our instinct is to live — and we have to deal with the myriad of circumstances which can snuff us out.

I was called by a friend, Susan, about a dead coyote at Fort Funston. Susan’s friend, Cassarra along with another friend Emily and their dogs, generously lead me out along the trails of Fort Funston to pick up this coyote. It had first been spotted almost a month earlier by dog walkers, yet still remained intact on the cliffs of the beach. I document coyote family lives which, naturally, includes their deaths, and I gather samples for DNA analysis at UC Davis for further information.

We headed out on the sand trails and slid down deep sandy crevices, through California coastal scrub, and up steep inclines of iceplants, led by Cassarra, a veteran dog walker who knows every inch of the terrain. We wound up and down and around for about 1/4 mile and finally could see the coyote’s white remains way up the cliff, close to the top where the scrub forest began. We headed up. As we got closer, I thought to myself: OMG, this coyote is much bigger than what I expected, how am I going to carry it back? And it looked bigger and bigger looming above us as we approached it . . . . maybe it was the lighting, maybe just the way it stood out perched on the cliff on the iceplants. When we finally reached it and actually stood over it, we could see its true size: it was tiny, and pretty dessicated.

By just seeing the body, we can gather a lot of information: usually age can be determined by looking at the teeth, sex, possibly why the coyote died. We gather DNA from samples to determine even more information about the individual and his/her family clan.

Cassarra led the expedition: she knows every inch of Fort Funston through her dog walking

This coyote was approaching being a mummy — he/she was dried-out to the extent that I could not sex her/him. There were few whiskers, but I got some. Saved a good portion of the ear in ethanol. Got a handful of fur from his/her back which I put in a baggie and labeled, all per instructions of UC graduate student Tali Caspi: all of these samples are for DNA analysis so we can know more about his/her family group and who else in the city she/he is related to which will lead us to its dispersal history, hopefully. I got pictures of the teeth. Small size, especially of the head and length of the snout, led me to believe it was a youngster, but wear on the lower front teeth may tell a different story.

The most interesting thing was that, although from a distance he/she looked so peaceful lying on the brightly colored ice-plant carpet, this coyote was found with an expression of agony on its face, jaw agape and something stuck in its throat or windpipe. We are left with the impression that he/she died because of this, trying to get it out: the young coyote had choked to death. Had he or she found something, been tossing it in the air and caught it incorrectly, when it became the deadly suffocant? We don’t know, but it looked like this is what happened. These kinds of freak accidents happen in nature. I remember seeing a photo of a fox hanging on a limb by its back legs. Apparently it had leaped up and in the process the back legs became crossed and hooked on that limb, and that’s the way the little fox died — hanging there with an inability to do anything about it.

After gathering the samples, I bagged the coyote. As I said, he/she had been there a month and therefore was dried out and partly mummified, so he/she was extremely light — I weighed it when I got home: it turned out to be a mere 4 pounds. We’ll have to wait several months for the DNA testing results. I’ll give her/him a proper burial.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cindie W
    Sep 06, 2021 @ 06:24:54

    Awwww. Sweet coyote. ✨💖✨ Thank you for this story. I look forward to a follow up and hearing more about the cause of death and relatives. Thank you Janet.


  2. SF Forest Alliance
    Sep 06, 2021 @ 09:12:05

    Thank you. Your deep knowledge of the coyotes of San Francisco – and the documentation here – is a wonderful resource in understanding these animals.


  3. MelindaH
    Sep 11, 2021 @ 00:44:10

    Thank you for honoring this Coyote’s existence by your story. Like all the others here, I’m awaiting the follow up.


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