Has Spermatogenesis Kicked In?

In this short video clip, you’ll see a 4½ year old female (and two-time mother) coyote exhibiting a keen interest in her long-time mate’s urine odors. Might this kind of behavior have to do with reproduction and, although I don’t know this for sure, would her interest be tied to odors emanating from spermatogenesis in the male? Whether this is the case or not, this is a good time to address the phenomenon of spermatogenesis in coyotes.

Spermatogenesis is the process of producing sperm. For coyotes, unusually and fascinatingly, it kicks in heavily during just the winter months starting about now and coincides pretty exclusively with female ovulation, wherein there occurs just a ten-day window of opportunity for fertilization to occur. The production itself apparently takes about two-months. I decided to read up some more about it in three scientific papers, but I’m sorry I did. I was able to confirm my information above which I already knew, but I didn’t find out anything else about the process. And I was awakened to upsetting scientific methods.

Science often is not as concerned with the well-being of the animals as much as it is with the information that is sought. For one of these studies, captive animals *kept* by our Department of Agriculture were used — animals that had not been allowed to live their natural lives. In another study, animals were captured and removed from their family environments, which in itself is inhumane because these animals are integral parts of long-term family units and are very tied to their territories in an *ownership* type of way. Removing them disrupts not only the family, but the territorial dynamics which have been established. The coyotes were kept in small kennels for 6 months before the actual study even began. Coyotes wander great distances of several miles every single night, so this confinement must have been excruciating for them. They were anesthetized before probes were inserted through their anuses for *electroejaculation* for the purpose of obtaining semen for sperm counts and hormone levels. Only the third study extracted information from post-mortem animals: I’m pretty sure that the 441 animals involved weren’t expressly killed for this study. Might simply watching their behaviors (mating at only one time of year), and using roadkill have provided the sought-after information more humanely and respectfully?

I asked myself, “why do scientists want this information in the first place?” The answer given in the papers was to possibly regulate their numbers: i.e., birth control. BUT, coyotes control their own populations naturally through territoriality: they themselves limit the population in any given area to just one family and they keep other coyotes out. And they also limit their family numbers through behavior: younger females below the alpha mother remain “behaviorally sterile” as long as they remain on their parents’ territory. I read long ago where birth control does not work in coyotes, even with TEN times the amount given other animals.

For me, the welfare of the individual animals comes first, but then again, I’m not a degreed scientist. The population study I’m collaborating on through UC Davis is hands-off and non-invasive. We use visual recognition of the coyotes, and then scat to confirm and expand on those findings. The study also involves diet analysis through DNA found in their scat — again, this is a hands-off and non-invasive study.

I think more and more people are coming to realize that the wildlife around us needs to have their rights protected. I’ve just bought a book, one of a growing number on the subject, that addresses my concerns: The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution That Could Save the World by Boyd, David R. which states that, “a growing body of law around the world supports the idea that humans are not the only species with rights; and if nature has rights, then humans have responsibilities.” Apparently *forests* are another group of species that are being viewed as having legal rights. I think this is highly interesting, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Photo Essay: Unwelcome Greetings

Mom was napping in the brown grasses in the late afternoon which is something she routinely does before the evening rendezvous: it was peaceful and calm as the day wore down. “Ahhh, this is life” could have been a thought coming from her head just then. She held her head up every few minutes and looked around and then let it fall back down and closed her eyes. As it got darker, she slowly began to move more and more, and finally she got up and stretched and ambled ever so slowly to I don’t think it mattered where, and then she stopped short.

My camera was focused on her, so at first I didn’t see what was going on outside the area of focus, but her stopping and staring told me that something had grabbed her attention.

Two of her seven-month-old youngsters — I would not call them pups anymore since they are close to full-sized coyotes — appeared. She watched as they greeted each other according to the ranking they had established between themselves. Suddenly my expectation turned to the wiggles and squiggles and ever- so-happy greetings I’ve seen so often at these greetings.

But no. She apparently wanted at that moment to have nothing to do with them, and possibly to continue in the calm space she was in. Communication between coyotes is very definite and precise — much more so than human words which, as we all know, can be very imprecise: facial expressions and body language leave no room for misinterpretation. She was facing away from me, but I knew exactly what was going on with the little I could see: she opened her snout threateningly, wrinkled her nose, pulled back her lips and displayed her teeth: “Hey kids, leave me alone!”

And the youngsters, of course, knew exactly what she meant. They had been approaching her in low crouched positions, carefully and gingerly, showing their respect and subservience — they had obviously encountered her unwelcoming side before. Mom apparently was not in a mood to deal with them. She stood there, keeping them at bay through her snarls and body language.

They move away from her

The youngsters were nervous and turned to interacting calmly with each other: grabbing the other’s snout, falling to the ground, hugging against each other as if for self-protection, etc. They then slowly approached Mom — they felt compelled to greet her — it’s their innate etiquette to do so — even if just to allow her to grab their snouts in a show of solidarity with their respective relationships. After that, and with the continued snarling, they moved on slowly and Mom lay down again in the grasses — the rendezvous and interactions would have to wait until SHE was ready.

These stills are of that interaction, taken in bursts, and at late dusk when there was little light, which is why they are blurry. I could have taken a video, but you would have missed the nuances of what was going on, which requires stopping the action, to see, interpret, and reflect on the behaviors.

Accumulating Stuff

I regularly see coyotes pass through this passageway, usually rather uneventfully, but over a period of about a month I noticed that one of them seemed to accumulate things — including wood, bottles, a cap, a bag, a cloth scrap, a raccoon, and a blanket: as far as I have seen, most coyotes don’t hoard like this. It goes to show that each coyote is unique, both their faces and their personalities, and each family is also different. And yes, I’ve included the cat that was brought in: please, everyone, don’t allow your cats to roam free: cats are much more likely to be grabbed than any of the other stuff you see in this video.

And, by the way, just as every coyote and coyote family is unique, so is every cat, and here is a video of a fairly unique cat chasing away a coyote. I myself have known several coyotes who run from cats, so it’s probably less unique than we think.

Scout and her Family’s Story Continues: Captain is killed, likely by Rat Poison

The above photo was taken on October 23rd. That’s the last day we saw *Captain* alive. By the 25th he was no longer appearing. Captain was an almost seven-month old pup of Scout’s. We found his body deep within some brambles, only a couple of feet off of a small footpath. I wish we had found him sooner: a necropsy could not be performed because the body was not fresh enough: it was already covered with bugs and smelled foul.

The body was found in a park, far from where a car could have hit him: he was not killed by a car — there was no such trauma to the body. Note the same scar on his forehead in life above and death below. I normally would not be able to identify a dead coyote since I use their open eyes and expressions to identify them, but with an obvious mark of this type, I was able to.

The obvious conclusion is that he died of rat poisoning. In my last posting I talked about his mother, Scout’s, recent absence for almost two weeks. We feared that a coyote hit by a car in the area might have been her, but it was her yearling son. She finally re-appeared for several days, but exhibiting slowed-down behavior. She continues to appear irregularly and in much more inconspicuous locations than in the past. Might she, too, have ingested a less-than-lethal dose of rat poison? This kind of lethargy is a symptom of rat-poisoning. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for her. By the way two cats in the neighborhood died of rat-poison at the same time as did Captain. Please talk to your neighbors about not using rat-poison. WildCare in San Rafael can talk to you about much safer and more effective ways to control rats: Please Don’t Use Rat Poisons.

Zoom Talk for El Cerrito Garden Club: 11/11@11 am

“If you have been seeing news articles and reading posts in NextDoor, you would think we’re under attack from coyotes in a new and terrifying way. It’s true that coyote sightings are increasing, and members of the El Cerrito Garden Club are talking about this phenomenon of daylight sightings, mangled cat carcasses, and general worry by hikers, parents and dog walkers.

Since we’ve made room for deer, gophers, and other mammals in our neighborhoods, willingly or reluctantly, why are coyotes so feared and hated? And why do they seem to be proliferating all over the East Bay, especially in the hills? All we have to do is notice just how many rats have made their homes around our properties, nesting in vegetation and under houses, and providing a rich diet for predators, including owls and coyotes. If you know that poisoning the rats is dangerous to pets, to owls and others who feed on rats, and you choose not to use the baits, be aware that coyotes are a big part of keeping the balance in our urban/wildlife corridor.

Come and watch Janet Kessler, naturalist and researcher with 14 years of experience with the coyotes in San Francisco, explain their population and behavior, how to accept these amazingly social animals, and how we can keep our pets and children safe while easily coexisting with them.”

This talk is part of the El Cerrito Garden Club’s *speakers series* that will begin after their monthly business meeting. It will include the same information as Janet’s previous talks, so if you’ve missed them all and wanted to hear one, you are welcome to ZOOM into this one. For the link and access code, contact Janet@coyoteyipps.com. After the 50 minute slide presentation, there will be a Q&A period. Here is the recording.

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