Vida Eliminated — with input by Walkaboutlou

[The first part of this is re-posted from my Instagram account, and then I explore a coyote territorial “takeover” scenario with input from Walkaboutlou].

Vida was a three-year-old first-time mom who suddenly went missing on July 25th, and we’ve not seen her again. She was a tiny and easy-going coyote who minded her own business and stayed away from people and dogs in her park. She was an absolutely ideal neighbor.

She had two four-month old pups whom she would not have just left. No, something happened — but what? There have been no DOA coyotes picked up by Animal Care and Control since then, so she doesn’t appear to have been hit by a car. The one hint as to what might have happened is the incredibly intense distressed coyote vocalizations every night around midnight close to her denning area over the period when she went missing, the kind I’ve been hearing, not after a simple chase by a dog, but after a much more intense and relentless hot pursuit by a powerful dog bent on “getting the coyote”, as I’ve recently posted.

I can’t help but think of the possibility that her disappearance might have been due to such foul play. The disturbing vocalizations went on intensely for many nights and pointed to violent upheaval of some type. I know it sounds far fetched — and this would be a worst-case scenario — but I wouldn’t put her disappearance past someone with a hunting dog who hates coyotes — maybe even brought into the city by a seriously disgruntled park-going individual. More than once I’ve heard several individuals say they were going to shoot the coyotes — take the law into their own hands because they didn’t like the law — the law didn’t suit them. The law, BTW, here in San Francisco, is that you can’t harm or harass wildlife.

There are a number of humans who are outraged and outspokenly livid that trails were closed by the Park Department this denning season, having been closed off to keep both dogs and coyotes out of each other’s way and to curtail conflict. In their minds, “whole sections of parks were turned over to the coyotes.” The people who think this way are not many, but they sure are vocal, loud, and self-righteous about it. They are individuals who feel THEY have a handle on how things “should be” and are unable to accept anything different — anything inconvenient to them. I want to point out to them that until the 1920s, Bald Eagles were considered vermin and shot on sight for hunting small animals and as a dire threat to children — they were one of those animals that “shouldn’t be here”.

I have seen large dogs sicced on coyotes by their owners in other SF parks — I was there and stopped it. What I do know is that Vida is gone and there were intensely distressed vocalizations tied into her disappearance, and then another female suddenly appeared and filled her niche. Fortunately, last I saw, Dad was still regurgitating food for the pups, picked up by a field-camera, so they are continuing to be taken care of. Vida has never reappeared.

As I said, I don’t have absolute proof that dogs were involved, I’m just speculating, as a possible scenario, based on my observations of the overall situation and all the input I’ve received. On the face of it, that’s the most likely scenario of what happened. But I want to interject another script or storyline possibility, no matter how unlikely, to show the breadth and depth of coyote behavior more than anything else.

A full month after Vida disappeared, my field camera in the area captured a pummeling fight between two female coyotes. The aggressive victor of the fight turned out to be none other than Libe, the new alpha female in the territory — the one who replaced Vida. I had no trouble identifying her. As I watched the video clip a thought passed through my head: What IF the smaller coyote had been Vida? This potentiality came to mind because the smaller, losing coyote had a similar size and body configuration as Vida. In spite of that, in Vida’s case, there appear to be too many negating factors: Vida has always been easy for me to identify, but I was unable to in the clip; the fight happened a full month after Vida stopped appearing, whereas if she had been forcefully driven away she would have tried repeatedly to reclaim her territory and family, but she didn’t — coyotes are intensely tied to their families; and she would have been more the aggressor rather than simply putting up a defense as might a dispersing coyote, as seen in the video — in the video it’s Libe who is doing all the pummeling.

So, more as a point of interest, I want it to be known that “takeover” situations — i.e. “stealing” — though exceptionally rare when there are pups, appear to be remotely possible.

Duking it out

I asked my friend, Walkaboutlou, who has revealed his deep understanding of coyotes from years of first-hand interest and observations, if he had ever heard of, or thought it possible, that an outsider single female could come in and fight and oust a mother with four-month-old pups from her territory? Could this happen? Do coyotes “steal” each other’s families? Ever? Commonly? I’ve never seen it. I myself had seen single coyotes ousted from territories, but in those cases, there were no pups and there was no mate, and I’ve seen the territories of older coyotes who have lost their mates taken over forcefully by a more robust and younger coyote pair.


Hi Janet,

I’m not a canine behaviorist professional in domestic or wild canids. However I always say …

Almost anything is possible.

I’ve seen seemingly stable and generational coyote packs that all have degree of relatedness and various affiliations too. Most areas are extremely fluid because coyote typically on average live rather fast lives. If you only have a few years to live, hold a place and have some pups hopefully … you live intense.

The ranching family I know who has known their coyote packs decades has mentioned take overs or changes. Sometimes a male or female is “driven” out. And their mate leaves with them. 

Other times … it seems some mates are determined to stay in territory, and join the victor. Much like cats.  The territory holds them more than the bond. 

I think any outcome or dynamic is possible. The contact calls and stress vocalizations would happen with dog aggression, or coyote take over. Its upheaval. 

I also know some coyote depart like ghost never to be seen again if they lose territory. And others are very stubborn to relinquish old stomping grounds.

However … the intensity of take over merits … usually … short term stuff. It’s usually just so stressful to both hunt and survive the usual … AND wage battles for turf it’s usually too much to maintain any length of time.

That being said … a Mother of pups and with mate is rarely usurped so early. It would be very interesting to know the history of challenger and her relationship with the current male. Some coyote …(like some people) don’t care about property rights, laws … or bonds. They see a place. A territory. A pack. And say…MINE. Take it or leave it. I’m coming in. You are leaving or submitting. Its mine.

It seems harsh. But many coyote feel impelled to take actions asap especially in areas where territory isnt easy to find.

I think there are outsider females and males that absolutely will take over everything. They may drive out the whole family. Or just the same sex target. (Mother, Daughters)

Fascinating stuff. 
Lou


BTW, the new female, Libe, two years old I would say, had been living in an adjacent territory as a loner for at least a year. That adjacent territory was not ideal in that it was entirely on the urban residential grid, composed of 25×100 foot lots with houses and apartments, and little open space in addition to small backyards, whereas Vida’s territory had it all: neighborhoods to trek through, a vast wild open space, a mate, pups. Libe trekked through her urban territory daily, usually at night, dawn or dusk, and kept away from people and dogs but allowed herself to be seen without any fear. I had seen her trekking right up to the periphery of Vida’s territory within a month of Vida’s disappearance, and may have been entering and assessing the situation. The only real interactive “behavior” of hers that I’ve ever seen is that fight in the field camera where she showed her mettle: she was pretty darn spunky and in control there. But recently she also has shown a spunky defiance towards dogs, challengingly occupying their play-space for short spells.

So, what I’m saying here is that Vida was most likely brutally eliminated/killed by a dog. BUT, almost anything is possible in the coyote world, as stated by Lou, including for an outsider coyote to come in and steal — lock, stock and barrel — what belonged to another coyote. Another circumstance diminishing that latter possibility here is that Vida and her mate were extremely supportive, playful, and affectionate with each other. It seems he would have defended her. But maybe not?

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rebecca Dmytryk
    Sep 14, 2022 @ 01:48:55

    This is so incredible, Janet. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for taking the time energy and money to bring us such an intimate look into the world of the coyote, which is just so complex, isn’t it!?

    Reply

    • yipps:janetkessler
      Sep 14, 2022 @ 13:14:11

      Hi Rebecca — Thank you! It does take a huge amount of time and effort, but not a lot of money — only the purchase of the camera! And yes, their lives are so much more complex than most people can imagine — I’m trying to open the door to give folks a view they might not otherwise would have. Thanks for being supportive! Janet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: