Tracker, by Courtney Quirin

My friend, Courtney Quirin, Biologist, Journalist, Documentarian, Artist, All-American Runner, in addition to being a high-energy, intrepid adventurer, is putting together an exciting documentary on animal tracking: “Tracker”! She’s actually attending the year long tracking course at the Tracker Academy in South Africa, so she has immersed herself in the subject and the process. The subject is dear to my heart as I’ve always been against tagging and radio-collaring of wildlife, intrusive gadgets these trackers never use. It turns out that 90% of traditional tracking skills have been lost over the last 40 years in South Africa. The tracking academy aims to bring these back to use in modern conservation. Watch the exciting trailer above to get more of a feel for the exciting endeavor! A second sizzle can be found here.

The film follows eight students over a year as they cultivate the tracker mindset and learn to read the language of nature. Along the way they learn that tracking is far more than identifying tracks; it is a compass for life.

  • Website:
  • Instagram site: @tracker_the_film
  • Indiegogo link:
  • Donations: can be made through January 4th, through Indiegogo or their fiscal sponsor, The Center for Independent Documentary, and are tax deductible. The funds will be used to cover costs of filming for the rest of the school year AND will help preserve an ancient African practice and incorporate it into modern conservation. Ten percent of net proceeds of this documentary will go towards funding a scholarship for students to attend Tracker Academy.

Scout Winter Solstice Catch-Up

I went to see Scout a few days ago for a year-end catch up session. I hadn’t been to see her in months. Although Scout’s story is unique to her, in a certain way, hers reflects the lives of coyotes generally, particularly urban coyotes.

Philosophy: Each coyote has her/his own story with many of the same elements, or variations of those elements. Coyotes are all dealing with both the joys and challenges of life and survival, each in a slightly different situation — not so different from the different situations we humans ourselves find ourselves in: we’re born into different circumstances and inherit different traits, and then make the most of what there is around us to live as well as we can. I’m pointing this out because I think that seeing these parallels helps us understand and relate to them more fully. Circumstances dictate so much of who we are: if we have one or two parents, how many siblings we have, where we fit in AND our relationships with those siblings, whether we have a house or are required to continually move. Whether our parents were able to provide for us: some of us begin with big inheritances (some coyotes inherit their territories) and some of us don’t, some of us have good and useful educations and some do not. Personality counts for a lot. Finding the right partner counts for a lot. Making a living is important for survival: coyotes hunt and protect their territories; we work at different things and pay for others to hunt or raise food for us and buy locks. The twain (humans and coyotes) love family life and indulge ourselves in play and games, though family life can reach a point of negativity at times with certain individuals. On and on: it’s really the same for coyotes as for humans. Neither of us chose to be here, but since we’re here, we’re making the best of it for ourselves. Some people tell me it’s not the same, I say they are wrong, and it’s only one’s anthropocentrism that’s preventing them from seeing this.

For those who haven’t followed her story: Scout is in what I would call a Fifth Iteration of her life. The first was growing up with her parents in her birth territory — she was a singleton pup who was left alone a lot. The second was her dispersal and life as a loner, consumed by her interest in human activity for 4 years — during this time she sought human attention and food, and she chased cars because folks were tossing her food from cars. In her third phase, she found a companion, but within months, her territory was taken from her by a more powerful female coyote and she was driven away, and in the process she lost her companion: this period of her life lasted six months. In her fourth phase she finally met up and formed a pair-bond with a lasting companion who she is still with: during this time she transitioned from a human-oriented coyote, to one who became absorbed in her own coyote family life. And now, her fifth phase, she’s absolutely absorbed in her own coyote family life along with a new, expanded territory, having moved away from the intense visibility she had experienced in her fourth phase. By putting “Scout” into the search box of my blog, you can access many of these stories.

The family. Scout’s immediate “nuclear” family (above) these days consists of her seven-and-a-half-year-old self, her mate Scooter, her one surviving pup out of three born this year, that’s Xiomar (an infant died early on and a young female pup was hit by a car at 6 months of age), and one yearling out of six born last year, Cyrano. They live for the most part in the newly expanded extension of their territory, but return and visit the area they used to use as their main hub where two of her yearlings remain in charge (see two photos below, one year and two years of age)). It’s almost as though these two yearlings have now become Scout’s “extended” family, and that she has ceded that part of her old domain to them. YET, she appears to remain in charge even here as a sort of super-alpha, visiting them regularly.

So, what I saw during my visit was really heartwarming. When I first spotted them, the family was joyfully playing chase and running through a field during their morning trekking session. The wind was overwhelming, so much so that I could hardly stand up, much less hold a camera still. That gale wind intoxicated the coyotes with energy and joy. I only got a few “catch-up” shots that day because of the wind, but I returned over the next few days. Below are some images I captured of the family in mid-December, 2022.

Play (above)

Upon my return over the next two days, I was able to capture Scout trekking with her family at dawn — I would find them singly, in pairs (any of two paired up), and as a whole family — that’s what I mostly saw them doing together though I’ve again caught her exuberantly playing chase and catch me with the rest of them: it’s always exhilarating to watch the family’s joyful interactions. Doing things together such as trekking together to mark their territories or hunt strengthens bonds, as does playtime — same as with humans.

Trekking over fields, paths, and yes, crossing streets (above)

As they trekked, there was grooming, relaxing, wallowing, stretching, avoiding ravens, hunting (above)

Issues. By the way, if you think these coyotes live cushy lives, that’s not totally so: ravens, dogs, cars, people, feeding, rat poison, not finding food, coyote intruders: these are stressors and hazards that are ever present in an urban coyote’s life.

For Scout, as for other coyote families, there were and will always be dog issues during the pupping season unless folks keep their dogs leashed and as far away as possible from all coyotes and their denning areas; dog issues have subsided substantially since the pupping season. Folks have learned to leash and walk away from them — possibly because of the signs I had put out during the pupping season, but also just spreading the word by mouth on a daily basis. And there are still human issues: people continue to feed and trying to entice coyotes towards their cars with food. But she’s much more wary of approaching cars than she used to be, and I’ve not seen her actually chase any cars in a long time. These are issues that exist at almost all of our parks, not just Scout’s. Please know that coyotes don’t need to be fed, and that you are simply creating issues for them and everyone else by doing so.

Dogs chasing, ignoring, or protecting themselves from coyotes! Dad marks to let them know what he thinks of them. Last photo is a recent intruder coyote in Scout’s territory : another headache for her and her family.

And then there are intruder coyotes, and I saw one only a few weeks ago in Scout’s territory: such coyotes are always a problem for the resident family because they just could be thinking of challenging the current family for the area. It happened before to Scout once before, bigtime! This being said, Scout has expanded her territorial boundary tremendously over the past year, pushing another family closer to the edge. I tend to believe that her mate, Scooter, was born into that pushed-away family, but we’ll have to wait for the long awaited DNA results to confirm.

So that pretty much sums up Scout’s current situation. Above is a rare photo I caught of her at her old haunt several months ago — she still appears to keep her toe in the doorway there, even though she’s ensconced in the newer area of her expanded territory.

Canid Conversation, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet, 

That was a great post about the coyote incident with child. I hope it furthers awareness. It’s really a matter of common sense and safety. Certain cities will have coyote populations. Forever. The sooner people live coyote aware the better for all. Children included.

A different but fascinating account on sheep ranch is something I received this morning.

I usually dont patrol sheep properties. Not a fan and they can be problematic in big areas for our style of checks.

This operation is pretty well run. The owners discovered long ago a 3 prong approach for coyote and sheep ranching. A large pack of LGD is used on rotation in the herds. Allowing conforming (don’t raid sheep) coyote pairs to become established and see off nomadic and less predictable coyote. And in back of property, away from herds, road kill is left. It’s legal here to collect/harvest roadkill. Deer are collected by ranchers family and taken to a consistent spot complete with cameras. The local territorial coyote are well fed on voles and periodic road killed deer. They are very content and don’t raid sheep.

The cameras on property also give them sight into ongoing behaviors. 

Originally…they thought an established coyote was changing into unwanted behavior. These coyote and LGD come to know each other at distance and by scent marks. There is a sort of truce…the coyote know death waits if they come in. But that the dogs won’t chase if they stay back. 

Trail and pasture cams show a male coyote well known coming to dogs and acting agitated. The dogs shouldering up together and slowly getting aroused..then setting off for a round. The coyote fades back to trails and woods and disappears.

But other trails show other developments.

The coyote runs down common sheep and ranch trails…but avoids the wooded hill sections. Literally same time coyote is trotting toward LGD areas, traveling wolves are moving through wooded property. They aren’t staying. They use this land to travel to elk herds and Cascade destinations. But they travel through foothills and ranches and the heart of coyote turf.

When they pass through..its seems a pattern has developed the local coyote vocalize at the wolves..but one male runs to LGD areas in some sort of alarm call. The LGD actually respond…pack up and 4 or 5 of them go to edge of foothills and woods, and mark extensively. It seems the wolves..who were moving anyway..glide away and disappear. So far..the LGD pack holds sway. 

Is it possible that this coyote has tenuously connected his alarm with wolves to alerting LGD? It seems far fetched…until we many dogs in towns and cities bark in chains of alerts and joining in. 

It is now at point if there are alot of coyote “rackets” and run arounds…the LGD can be seen trotting out..and the woods cams show a wolf…or several..moving through.

I asked if they were going to put coyote on ranch payroll. No comment.


PS-This Canid Conversation is also under study by a couple of biology students. One Question was…Do the Road kill Deer attract wolves and raise issues? So far…the answer is no. The structure of the spot and lay of land deer kill is left is a funnel shaped area purposely designed for camera shots. They want to see who feeds in this area far from sheep herds. It seems to spook wolves…the funnel and cameras. Coyote have no qualms. Neither do cougar, bobcat, badger, raccoons, weasels, mink, or possums. Bears are an issue only because..they often destroy cameras. Bears have a very specific way they treat cameras. And often the camera don’t survive.

But so far 7 years of pics…not a single wolf has entered to funnel shaped spot. 


Addressing a Coyote’s Attack on a Toddler, with Walkaboutlou

I’ve been sent this disturbing video by a number of people who wanted my input about it: within the few seconds a 2 year old toddler is left unattended, a coyote walks by and grabs her by the leg and drags her a short distance.

We need to understand this disturbing coyote behavior in order to deal with it properly.

Right off the bat, I want to point out that this coyote behavior is not caused by “coyotes multiplying and wandering all over the city who need to be managed”, as I’ve recently read on NextDoor. Such an interaction could have occurred had there been only ONE coyote in the entire city. But, to address coyote numbers: Coyotes manage their own numbers: see Territories and Population in San Francisco. Any attempt at population management — i.e., reducing their numbers — could actually result in an increase in their population. The reason is that killing them disrupts their very organized social system whereby only the alpha parents on any one territory reproduce. Without that stable system, all females may end up breeding until a new order is reached. It’s their territoriality which keeps their numbers in check, with youngsters apparently dispersing south and out of the city — at least those who have not been killed by cars, of which there were over 24 in 2021. Since Covid restrictions were instituted several years ago, many more people have been out than ever before, seeing coyotes, often for the first time. With more eyes out to see them, more are reported on NextDoor, with people therefore claiming a huge increase in their numbers. So for example, that someone saw coyotes out on Greenwich Street for the first time was reported in the news during the Covid lockdown, but in fact, coyotes have been traveling that street every night since I started documenting them many years ago. There have also been many, many more dogs who were adopted during Covid, leading to more dog/coyote encounters. So that’s the population situation. As I said, with only a single coyote in the city, the incident in the above video could have happened.

About the coyote’s behavior. Several things appear to be going on. First of all, that this coyote came so close to humans in the first place may indicate that he has been fed, or that he’s used enough to people to not feel threatened by them. It’s important not to draw them in through friendliness or feeding because this increases their comfort level around us. Secondly, and more importantly, coyotes are wild animals, and no matter how “sweet” or “harmless” they look, there is always the “potential” for a negative interaction. What you see in this video is extremely rare, but that doesn’t change the “potential” for this kind of interaction. Why? Look at coyote behavior in the wild. Coyotes — and many dogs, by the way — are instinctively and magnetically drawn to small wobbly youngsters of all species, be they newborn lambs, horses, deer, cattle. It’s why so many children are injured or even killed by dogs. Please know that there have only ever been recorded two human fatalities from a coyote — that’s how rare it is. However scratches and a puncture wound could result to a child.

The “management” that has to be done by the City is educating the public, but the City, through ACC and RPD, has failed miserably in getting information out, either through effective signs — many of theirs are faded and dilapidated with ineffective information — or through talking to individuals — which they seem to engage in minimally if at all. One of ACC’s duties is “care” for the animals, which I laud, but posting photos of officers cuddling a coyote sends the wrong message and is counterproductive given the goals they want to achieve.

Bottom line from Lou and myself: Children grabbed in this manner is unacceptable. But knowing how this can actually happen is the key. A wobbly small unattended small child, or animal, can attract a trigger. For coyote:  Do not encourage familiarity. Do not feed. Do not trust any wild animal or strange dog around small children. Besides keeping your distance from coyotes, please never leave your young child unattended — something could happen in the blink of an eye. We hope no other kids are grabbed and the child in the video will be ok. Please read my exchange below with Walkaboutlou who is a keen first-hand observer of coyotes and their behaviors on ranches.

Hello. Lou here. Someone just sent me this as proof coyote aren’t trustworthy around children.
I answered no wild animals are trustworthy around children.
Also…while I admit this is unacceptable..I also say this is a result of humans feeding a wild animal.
If you feed a bear in your yard for periods of time acclimating it to human activity..then allow tiny children to be around bear…there is a danger in that.
When people feed wild animals..especially doesn’t change their nature or hunting instincts. can suppress or remove instincts of fear and avoidance..and tragically lead to situations like this.
I don’t have all the answers and again..find this unacceptable. However..this isn’t the norm. And is a conditioned response by multiple behavior

Sessions of behavior modification. Feeding. Human Feeding.

Hi Lou — I was sent this same video. I’ve seen a number of fed coyotes. Feeding makes them hang around closer to human activity and lose much of their wariness of us, but it doesn’t make them aggressive. From what I’ve seen, feeding makes them mellow and docile. So I question that feeding is the culprit — at least not the sole culprit — except that the coyote was more comfortable initially approaching the human situation. I’ve now seen several videos of coyotes approaching young children rather aggressively like in this video. I believe there’s some kind of instinct working here . . . it’s almost as though they (coyotes) see children in the same way they see dogs: they don’t like them and they don’t trust them. So there’s more involved than just feeding, and it has to do with childrens’ size. Maybe with their vulnerability? I’m thinking out loud. Yes, it’s unacceptable coyote behavior, and it hurts efforts to help folks accept them. :(

You know, it’s like the doe you saw them go after: they somehow can read who is vulnerable and unlikely to retaliate in a life-or-death way.

Lou: That makes sense yes. I think there is a way too familiar vibe there..(hence my thought of feeding) but you know it better there. Not blaming that man..but he allowed a toddler to waddle out alone..I’ve seen it with coyote. They will actually approach newborn bison…not because they are ready for mom…but the helplessness. That makes sense! I know coyotes here have nailed new helpless calves, horse foals, lambs, puppies, IF unattended. They will definitely check out wobbly unattended babes.

Coyote for about 2-3 days can handle fawn deer or elk calves. If they see wobbly teetering babes they rush in almost as if magnetized. And…if someone witnesses that..they often want to kill every coyote. It’s hard to accept. But its context. From cars to unstable human predators to canines of ALL sorts..toddlers need protecting. How many dogs jump unattended children? Many.

Small children need guarding. And unfortunately…it can mean on occasion…a triggered coyote.

I see your observation as accurate. Triggered.

Jan: Yes, somehow “triggered”. Feeding draws coyotes in closer, but it’s more than just that from what I’ve seen. It doesn’t happen all that often, but, nevertheless, it happens. I tell folks to stay far away from coyotes. But that coyote in the video seemed to come out of the blue and grabbed the child in that split second when she was left unattended. The thing is, kids need to be attended every second — tragedy can happen in just one second, be it from a coyote or anything else: people need to understand this. I can rattle off a lot of tragedies that happened in a split second. For example the child who in the blink of an eye slipped between the sidewalk and the road pavement of the Golden Gate Bridge as her dad was filming her. He couldn’t understand how she had disappeared into thin air and of course she hadn’t — she had slipped underneath the bridge. A little girl was kidnapped by a FedEx delivery man when no one was watching her for a few minutes. Kids have to be watched ALWAYS. A childhood friend of mine drowned in the split second she was unattended — they couldn’t find her until it was too late — at the bottom of a shallow pool of water. In the split second of inattendance, a preschool schoolmate of my kids’ had grabbed the toxic cleaner on the table and ingested it, burning and destroying his esophagus and vocal chords forever. It only takes a second. You never expect these things, and then they happen. My friend Melina keeps her dogs far away from all kids: the “potential” for harm is there, she says.

Lou: That’s what it amounts to. I think for me…it’s shocking obviously because it was a toddler child…but I’m still not used to the ease city coyote have. The coyote I’ve known..even the “bold” ones have almost always been extremely fearful or respectful of actual human personally. What I’m seeing is classic predation of wobbly young and distracted parent..but its not a new elk calf or fawn in the video. And it’s jarring yes. I can remember when my kids were tiny them playing hide and seek in park. We looked up to see my daughter, 4 “hiding” behind tree..with 2 bear cubs other side peeking! I ran did mother bear..we both collected our young, both fearful and growling. I’ll never forget that. Yes…the children MUST be guarded and watched every moment.
I also hate this to happen not only for child..but whenever a coyote here “acts up” it puts all the coyote in danger from retribution a long time.

Jan: Exactly. Very upsetting that a human toddler was targeted — though understandable from a wild animal behavior perspective — which few city people understand, and anyway, they won’t tolerate it. My fear is the knee-jerk danger it puts the coyotes in from human retribution, as you say. I can only hope that those in authority keep a level head about it. These attacks are extremely rare, but they happen. They are avoidable if people know about it — but it hurts coyotes’ reputation. :( Yikes, you don’t want to mess with mama bears!! Glad your kid was okay! I’m wondering if I should post the video and our discussion on my blog? Any thoughts? Janet

Hi Janet…that’s up to you. At any case…I think people need to be aware…it’s not about being able to “trust” coyote or that they are starving etc…they are premiere OPPORTUNISTS. And while the vast majority wont grab kids..there are some that will trigger and will. A doddering fawn, calf, lamb, small dog or child will magnetize certain coyote just like we talked about some..not all..taking on deer if a trigger is hit.

Anyone who feels a wild animal needs to be trustworthy isnt really realizing Nature or animals

And living with or among any animal…livestock..dogs..or coyote…means who especially watch and guard our little ones. Just like parents do in nature.

Hi Lou — The message needs to get out there, as you say, that coyotes are opportunists and wild, and distance and vigilance are needed needed. Kids need to be supervised closely at all times.

Lou: Yes..I think it’s important for people to realize…coyote usually don’t grab kids…however..the potential is there. Dogs, Coyote, Cougar, Bear, Moose, Elk, Horses, all have triggers. Some coyote…not all..are triggered by weakness in others not usually seen as prey. Some coyote will tackle weakened deer etc…but irregardless, the triggers can be there. A wobbly toddler alone is definitely a trigger, I believe most coyote chose to ignore. But obviously not all.

BTW–I’ve witnessed moose, feral horse, otter, Deer, feral dog, etc etc incidents and every time…the human or pet involved gave the situation to trigger the actions. It’s really key to know common sense principles. Distance. Awareness. And being aware of real triggers with pets or kids.

Jan: Yes, TRIGGERS: people need to know this, and it involves the young of any species: that it’s perfectly natural coyote behavior that can be prevented by being vigilant and staying away and supervising a child every second.

Lou: Exactly yes. Triggers. Triggers give us clarity and also reduce bad choices. I know my dogs will be wounded or worse if I allow them certain behaviors around wolves and coyote and LGD. Knowing triggers and maintaining vigilance are really skills needed out in ranges or in cities or anywhere.

So please, everyone, the way to stay clear of this kind of interaction is to stay vigilant and constantly supervise your small children when out of doors in a coyote area! By the way, an author and observer of the situation in Los Angeles, Lisa Febre, wrote me that, “The good thing is that on the Facebook posting of this story (by the tv station) the comments are very pro-coyote. People around this side of Los Angeles — in the “outskirts” of the San Fernando Valley, against the wild hills to the west and north — live with coyotes and seem very fascinated by them rather than afraid. These people REALLY defend them. All my neighbors here love them, and talk about coyote choruses they’ve heard, and share security camera footage of backyard sightings. Even when my dog was attacked, the other neighbors were worried “you’re not going to report it, ARE YOU?!” No freaking way!! I felt AWFUL for my dog, but so much worse for the coyotes if anyone had reported the attack. Although, it worries me that people leave out food “for feral cats” which they don’t realize is related to enticing coyotes to their property! More cats, fatter coyotes.”

Dog Chase, Calling Dad, and Rendezvous

The evening began with Mom asleep — or half-asleep — close to some bushes: every once in a great while she raised her head to assess her surroundings, and then dropped her head and closed her eyes again. Meanwhile, one of her three 8-month-old pups — the boldest of the three — was out “grazing”: hoping to find a vole or gopher as he waited for rendezvous time.

Mom, half asleep, while 8-month-old pup wanders close by in search of voles and gophers.

That’s when 19-month-old yearling appeared on the scene, strutting confidently down the path. But that didn’t last long, as immediately an unleashed dog with no owner in sight decided to chase after him.

Yearling appears on the scene, and immediately afterwards, so does the dog.

The dog was no match for the coyote who — confidently — sailed over obstacles and ran that dog in circles. This went on for several minutes. The dog wasn’t deterred.

The dog begins a lengthy chase of the yearling.
The coyote continues to run from the dog as the dog wears out.
The yearling bounds effortlessly up a steep incline which is more than the dog can do at that speed.

But Mom was watching and decided to get ready to help. She stretched and slowly walked over to where the two had been running.

Mom is not quick to respond: she stretches and the walks over to where the dog is.

The next time the dog came around, she faced him. The dog took one look at her and knew she meant business with the look on her face, her hackles up, and not flinching as the dog approached. I saw that dog waver only for a moment, and then beat a hasty retreat towards his owner. We didn’t see him again.

As Mom approaches the dog, he has a sudden change of heart about chasing and turns away. Now it’s his turn to flee!
Mom faces the dog defiantly — i.e., she’s not running from him.
Yearling plopped down on a mound, almost defying the dog to come back. The dog didn’t return. These little acts of defiance against their tormentors shows how coyotes are willing to stand up for themselves when pressed.

Yearling brother returned and lay on a mound, sort of claiming it, in defiance of the dog, as seen above. He lay there, keeping an eye on where the dog had disappeared, just in case he might reappear. That’s when this video below kicks in.

The video begins with the pup’s grunting sounds which soon cease as Mom begins howling — he keeps himself in the distance near the shrubs. The dog was gone, but she was upset. However, it wasn’t the distressed howling that comes from being chased. After all, she herself hadn’t been the one who was chased. As she howled away, her chased yearling joined her. Mom continues to howl, now apparently calling out to Dad to come — they face in the direction they know he will come from — and sure enough, soon he soon appears.

You’ll see a greeting session with all that involves: kowtows, body rubs, grooming, nose touches, licks, nips, vocalizations. Dad then leaves Yearling and Mom then to check on the pup. Everyone then waits for the other two pups to arrive — which is where the video ends — before continuing their rendezvous and trekking for the evening.

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