Understanding An Incident of Urban Coyote Predation on Livestock, with Experienced Insights from Walkaboutlou

Goat grazing is used in the city of San Francisco to rid areas of overgrowth which might become fire hazards. A week ago an extremely rare incident occurred: two coyotes appeared to have taken down a goat. But the story is more complicated than it might appear at first glance and very educational. It offers a lesson for us all to know about coyote behavior.

A couple of witnesses said they heard the goat vocalizing at night. They shone a light on the spot where the noise came from and saw two coyotes going at the goat who was down on the ground. Within 20 minutes the witnesses called the goatherds on call to let them know that the goat was dead. The goatherd came out and examined the situation.

On location, the goatherd noticed right off that the coyotes, unusually, were not afraid of them: this is a situation which arises when coyotes are being fed by humans. One of the coyotes looked straight at them with that look of, “Aren’t you going to toss me some food?” What feeders don’t know, or maybe don’t care about, is that not only is coyote behavior altered by this human feeding contact, but when stressed, coyotes can revert to their wild-animal behavior and end up biting the hand that fed them as they demand more food. They also observed that the coyotes ran from a single goat approaching them — something they would not be doing if they had gone into the herd specifically to kill one of them. The coyotes were more afraid of goats than humans, when it should have been the other way around. So why might they have gone after this goat?

I’ve spoken to two goatherds from two different organizations about this. They both have observed the same thing: that coyotes leave healthy goats alone.  So when a coyote has gone after a goat — which is a rare occurrence for these urban goat grazers — it has always been the fragile/weak ones: either newborns or those who are wearing down due to old age. Coyotes are able to both sniff out and visually read very subtle cues about any animal’s condition: they have an amazing ability to smell pheromones and other body chemicals, letting them know many things that we are not even aware of, including if an animal is sick or weak, it’s experience and age.

The goat, Merlin, was beyond old, well beyond the age when most goats would have passed away. These grazing organizations keep most older goats and the very young ones at home rather than allowing them to work as grazers, but this particular goat wanted to be out with her buddies in the herd. Their happiness matters to the people who look after them. The old goat was now living with a benign growth in her udder which may have been weakening her but was apparently not painful given the goat’s usual energy level and posture. The tumor hadn’t stopped any of her normal activity, but it had been growing and was under observation.

Merlin was at the bottom of a hill when she was first discovered with the two coyotes. Was she pursued down there? If the herd had been pursued, they would likely have stampeded, but there was no sign at all from the other goats that there had been chasing gong on. When they have been chased, they pant and breathe hard for a considerable time after the event: but there was no sign of this from the rest of the goats. The carcass showed that the goat had not been grabbed by the esophagus and strangled, which is how most coyotes would have killed her. Had she fallen down that hill and been unable to get up? Had her tumor burst open and bled, which might have attracted the coyotes? Had she gone off from the herd to die? Was she lying down before the coyotes got to her? The herders considered all these questions. Whatever precipitated this encounter, it was the coyotes’ keen perception and intuition about weaker animals which drew them into this situation.

Based on the situation, it seemed most likely that this goat was dying before the coyotes got to her. The coyotes simply finished her off, and in the end, maybe this was the most humane ending for her. The goat was on a short list of goats who were experiencing health problems in their old age.

Note that herds of livestock are uncommon in San Francisco and are only brought in for short periods of grazing in any particular area, so I have had little experience in observing them. To understand coyote predation behavior on livestock better,  I contacted the rural/ranch expert I know and trust. He has been keenly observing coyote behavior on ranches for the last 40 years. I’m sharing his amazing insights below. What he says below is both a confirmation of what the herders discussed with me, and a clear and well put expansion on the subject as it happens on ranches. Thank you, Lou!


Experienced Insights on Ranch Coyote Predation, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet,
I’m humbled you would ask me for input. I feel you know as much as anyone about coyote, especially urban coyote. And it sounds like the herd owner is knowledgeable and wise as well. Her observations and conclusions are very likely spot on.

Something to consider in dealing with coyote is they are so variable. Literally every coyote is different. And will behave differently at various stages of life and in changing circumstances. One coyote may discreetly live in the shadow of humans a long time. Then suddenly become bold and change in behavior. But there are always facts and reasons. We must be a sort of Detective to sort out coyote. And even then…sometimes it’s generalities and guesswork.

My experiences with coyote from east to west coast is in general, small livestock and/or pets will ALWAYS be checked out by coyote. It doesn’t mean automatic predation. But as Coyotes move through territory they literally scan every animal they see, sense or smell. They will study especially new situations or neighbors. An old cat who goes in fields. A dog allowed to roam alone. An area burned. Etc…They will hone in on new developments. A herd of sheep or goats is in some ways, a magnet to coyote. Again, it doesn’t mean automatic predation. But they will zero in especially in a new herd. Here is where the variables become complex. What is the fencing like? Are people or LGD present? What kind of coyote hold the territory? Is the herd healthy and calm? Cohesive? Are there young, pregnant, old or ill among them?

These variables and situations are what I call “the conversation”. Some herds and situations tell coyote “Don’t even try it”. And the coyote moves on. Other herds, or situations, are not as clear. The coyote sense hesitation or weakness. Or inexperience. Either way, the “conversation” triggers the Coyotes incredible senses on possibilities. Coyote literally can read and KNOW animals. They can sense an inexperienced doe and run her fawn into a fence. They will smell and detect injury, illness, and age. They smell arthritic bones and bad teeth. And finally, the herd itself can determine outcomes. Flight and panic are disasters for sheep and goats. If a coyote can cause chaos, he will inevitably catch/kill someone. How much space is there for goats? The land itself can aid the herd or help coyote.

Sheep and especially goats can bond with each other. This helps. A bonded herd is calmer. But I have seen many times where a herd very quietly, subtly, “gives up” a member. The coyote or predator arrives, and the herd literally gathers and walks/calmly trots away while the coyote hones in on 1 particular animal. It looks almost like it’s been planned. But the herd doesn’t fight for or stand by the chosen animal. It becomes exposed, alone, and is taken. (I’ve seen sheep in troubled labor picked this way by coyote and eagle).

If coyote kill a herd member, even if it was “natural” (old or sick) beware. Because coyote are predators. They aren’t bad. But they will kill and eat and adapt. So if a herd “fed them” with an old goat, they will return to see if another herd member is weakening or simply makes mistakes. (I’ve seen old doe goats easily run coyote off, but then a young kid copies their elders and immediately got snatched away) Illness, Aged, Youth, Mistakes, are coyote magnets. They may ignore a protected or strong herd for years. But then instantly jump on opportunities. The key is to not give them the opportunity that triggers them.

I would review everything about this situation and try to not repeat my conclusion. Is the land a natural trap? Does it provide goats places to defend themselves? Are these coyote unusual? Will they teach other pack members to hunt goat? How long are goats alone? What are their sizes and ages? Its canine chess dealing with coyote. Urban settings especially are challenging.

But I feel all involved are more then capable of dealing with this predation and moving on. I would inject considering a compatible protector to bond with goats. A LGD is likely not a choice in urban settings. But depending on the land, Llamas/Mini Donkeys etc..have also done well coping with coyote.

It’s just a matter of creating that seed of doubt and lack of opportunities that will cause the coyote to just look and think…”Nope”…. What those are, is up to us.
All the best..
Lou 🐾

Feeding Hurts Coyotes Physically, In Addition to Altering Their Behavior

Several people voiced their concern that a particular coyote was “fat”, making me aware that it wasn’t just my imagination. And neither were her looks due simply to a thickening of her winter coat, which indeed can change a coyote’s size appearance drastically. I’ve watched coats grow and thicken beautifully in the fall on lots of coyotes over the last 12 years, and then fall out and thin out in the late spring. This case here involved more than this seasonal change. 

Size and Build

Coyotes have thick, three-inch fluffy fur in the winter. This is shed in the late spring so that by July a coyote has only his/her undercoat, revealing the true smaller animal that the coyote is. In July, hip bones may protrude, back leg bones can be seen through their skin, jaw bones protrude: the visible bones aren’t caused by coyotes losing weight in the springtime, this is just how coyotes are built, and these skimpy builds show after they’ve shed their winter coats. Now, in October, winter coats have grown back in. See the difference this fur change can make in their appearance: normal fur changes.

Function

Coyotes are light and lithe underneath their fur because they need to be to function properly. Being lean and light allows them to run swiftly at 43 miles per hour during pursuit. Because they are so light and lithe, they can run up and down very steep inclines quickly and easily, wearing out a heftier pursuer such as a wolf, or even a dog whose weight includes a meatier/muscular build. I’ve seen dogs collapse in exhaustion, unable to keep up with a coyote as he ran up and down a 50% grade. Their lightness allows them to leap high and far for prey, and to jump over high fences. Coyotes are built a little like whippets, but with much more spring to their bodies, including to their trot: these animals, especially the Western coyotes, are composed mostly of thin and light bones, sinews, tendons and minimal muscle mass.

Activity Level

Coyotes weigh more or less 30 pounds in San Francisco. They can go days without eating anything: their bodies are made for that. At all times, whether food is or isn’t so readily available, they are using their bodies searching and hunting for food, and keeping both their minds and bodies in prime shape by doing so. It takes constant activity to stay fit: just look at yourself, or anyone who wants to stay fit, including any athlete or runner: they work to stay in shape and keep their skills honed because that’s what it takes. The same is true for animals.

Food Requirements

Coyotes are superb hunters. This is a gopher.

What coyotes are fed in captivity (those who are being rehabilitated or because of an injury cannot survive in the wild) amounts to a several rats and miscellaneous insects and vegetables a day. The amount of food recommended for a dog that size, again a much meatier animal usually, is two cups of kibble a day at most. Coyotes may need more than this, but they don’t need huge amounts of food. They are fabulous hunters: unless there are extreme weather conditions such as a long drought or where fires have devastated the land entirely of its resources, coyotes can hunt what they need. Here in San Francisco, prey consists of gophers, voles, squirrels, rats, mice, birds, skunks, raccoons, insects, reptiles which I see coyotes catch constantly in addition to fruit and roots. When they catch prey, they eat the whole thing: bones, skin, fur, organs, muscle and all — they don’t waste any of it because their nutritional needs require it all. They’ll even pick through garbage sometimes, which is always available in urban areas. What coyotes do NOT need is to be purposefully fed by more and more people who don’t think the coyote can make it on its own, or they want to make life easier for the animal. These people may be well intentioned but they are absolutely misguided.

Feeding

Food left DAILY for one coyote by one feeder — other people were also feeding this coyote. The sheer quantity of food is mind boggling.

What I’ve seen:  More than several people are feeding a number of our coyotes copious amounts of food every day, leaving it out along the street or hidden among the bushes behind a pedestrian guardrail in little buckets or just on the ground. I’ve seen pounds of meat being tossed right at these coyotes from across the street or in parking lots: places where people drive to regularly after they have found a coyote begging there. I’ve seen whole chickens, feathers still intact, and all types of meat, both cooked and raw, much of it highly processed or salty, including whole packages of bacon tossed off to the side of the road for them.  If this stuff is bad for us, and even our dogs, you know it is bad for them also. And this is in addition to leftover pizzas, burgers, McNuggets, partial sandwiches left on trails in the early mornings, or five pounds of dog kibble — I know because I took it home and weighed it. If you have a dog, you know how harmful cooked chicken bones are for them, yet whole roasted chickens from Safeway have been put out where coyotes have been seen.

One feeder confessed to me that she whistles for the coyotes who have learned to come at her beck and call. She told me, “They are so, so cute. I LOVE them. I go to several parks to feed them. There’s nothing for them to eat so I HAVE to feed them.” No matter how often I repeated to her that there IS food, and I named all the foods they might find, she always returned to original statement, “there is no food for them.” These people think they are “helping”, they think they are being “kind”. In the cases I have seen, it is not “kindness”: it is whittling away — robbing them — not only of their coyote “essence”, but also of what they need to survive which includes continual practiced hunting skills. Lithe abilities require practice, and a quick and lean body.

Detrimental Effects

There are no caloric expenditures for food being tossed to or left out for the wild animal. The result is added weight on the animal which hampers quickness and response times.  If you have trouble relating to this, think of your dog. A heavy dog — an overweight dog — is unable to turn on a dime, leap, or run swiftly: they “waddle”. A fat coyote will lose their quick edge and that could spell disaster for them on the road where only a few days ago we witnessed a car slam on its breaks in order to miss one who has gained a lot of weight from being fed.  This coyote is being fed from a number of cars — people tossing food out the window as they drive by — which is what is drawing her into the street in the first place.

I’ve never seen a coyote gain weight precipitously — or otherwise — until this coyote depicted below. The weight gain occurred in less than six weeks: it was actually shocking to compare before and after photos. Some people were asking me if she was pregnant. This could not be the case because estrus occurs only once a year for coyotes, in January/February, and anyway, there is no male around for her. By comparing photos, the change became obvious, even accounting for winter fur growth over those few weeks

Here are photos taken six weeks apart. A little bit of hunger is what spurs the activity to hunt. Sitting around close to human activity and begging, and chasing cars, is not going to end well for her. Please know that it is illegal to feed wildlife in California.

In addition to possible body damage caused by feeding, which is what this posting is intended to shed light on, there are behavior changes caused by feeding: See Food: The Behavior Shaper.

Sirens Lead to Howls and Yips in a United Front


Come to think of it, I don’t hear loner coyotes howl very often, even on their own claimed territories. Is this because they don’t want to “proclaim” to the world their ownership of a territory they might not be able to defend alone? And neither do I hear coyotes howling for any reason when they are passing through territories other than their own.

The female in this video, when she was a loner on her claimed territory, never used to respond to sirens during daylight hours (though she did so sporadically at night), though she would howl in distress after being chased by dogs or in response to seeing one particular dog whom she did not like.

However, in this video, with a new male companion, she obviously felt secure about belting out her response to the sirens for the whole world to hear, and seemed to be super-happy about it! Coyote families respond to sirens all the time, possibly to express their family unity and their territorial separateness from their neighboring coyotes.

That male companion situation, however, was short lived: it lasted only four months. The male/female relationship was disrupted by another female before the bond was solidified (yes, this happens even to coyotes) and the male companion moved on, so the female now again is a loner who again does not respond to sirens as she did when she had her male companion. She does, however, continue to bark in distress when chased by dogs, or when her one dog nemesis appears on the scene.

This video shows clearly how lips are used for modulations by coyotes.

Although I mounted this video on Youtube eight months ago, it’s only now that I’m getting around to posting it on my blog, after it has garnered almost 1M views.

“Demand” Behavior

I have written about how feeding coyotes robs them of their “essence”, causing them to become meek, docile and listless beggars. Coyotes are superb opportunists and extremely intuitive about getting what they need in the easiest and most efficient way possible. Given the opportunity for an easy and free meal, they’ll seize that opportunity and go for it.

I spoke with Lesley Sampson, founder and director of Coyote Watch Canada, about another facet of feeding coyotes: she told me about a coyote who had been labeled “aggressive” because it had, under no provocation, approached a man and punched his hip. This was a man on a substitute job for the day. He of course found the behavior very alarming, as anyone would have.

But coyotes aren’t naturally outright aggressive to people, so what was going on? Lesley was called in to help with the case. With a little bit of investigation, she discovered that the regular job-holder routinely put his hands in his pockets to withdraw the food he would toss to this coyote.  Ahhhh. The coyote was displaying “demand behavior”, having been taught, by the regular job-holder, through repetition, that food was coming, and it was coming from a pocket.

This can happen. A coyote is fed out of the bigness of someone’s heart — “Oh, the coyote looks so thin and hungry” (which, BTW, happens to be their natural state) — setting the stage for a problem. After a very short time, the coyote comes to EXPECT the food, and when the food doesn’t come quickly enough, or when it doesn’t come at all, the coyote becomes impatient and may actually DEMAND the food, as in the case above. Lesley spoke of her dogs doing the same thing: it’s a common trait in canines. This is not an “aggressive” coyote, though humans will see it as such. It’s a “trained” coyote: humans set the expectation by repetitive feeding and then the coyote acts on this: “where’s my food!” It’s really important not to feed coyotes in the first place. Authorities, not knowing the background, will eliminate such an animal for his/her apparent “aggressiveness”.

Coyote pups are born with the instinct to seek/demand food from their parents by inserting their muzzles into the mouth of a parent which triggers a regurgitation response in the parent. The result: food. They learn that this is where food comes from, at least to begin with. Habit and reinforcement keep them doing this until parents start teaching them to hunt — parents teach the pups that, in fact, food comes in many forms and from many places and they can find it, but they have to go looking for it. The easiest sources of food will be the most attractive, and they’ll return to these.

Below is a photo sequence of a five-month-old youngster seeking food from where he’s been taught it comes from — a parent. His mother has just arrived home after an evening of hunting. Pup approaches her, but she doesn’t have anything for him. He persists, and even punches her angrily on the back. She runs away with her defensive hackles up. This is demand behavior: when the food isn’t forthcoming as expected, the pup who is expecting food “as usual” demands it. This is no different from Lesley’s example of the friendly man offering food from his pocket.

Youngster punches mom, DEMANDING the food

And here’s a further possible complication. Parents eventually, normally, teach their youngsters to hunt. BUT what if the parents are being fed by humans so much so that they don’t need to hunt, and therefore don’t, and consequently they don’t teach their youngsters how to do so? Remember that coyotes learn by imitation and example. The youngster may even be taken to where the food is left or even worse, to the feeder him/herself. Hmmm. What works best and easiest for the coyote parents will be passed on to the pups.

And another speculative complication: Could the population grow beyond the natural carrying capacity of the area with this extra food being handed out regularly? It’s food for thought.

Please don’t feed coyotes, for their sake.

Reflecting on an Exile and Return

Coyote families, and even loners, may leave their claimed territories for any number of reasons, or they may stay in that one location for generations. I’ve known both situations. Of those that leave, the primary reasons seem to be inability to defend the territory from another hostile coyote, or dwindling resources. In some cases, but not always, the same coyotes may come back. Here are some of my reflections and a background recap, along with a video of snippets I put together, on one such coyote’s return to her old home.

Exiled: In this case, the coyote — who I will refer to as “our coyote” — was forced to leave her long-term claimed territory by another intruder coyote whose attacks left her no alternative. During her absence, she became a transient, an interloper with no home of her own, existing in-between other territories in a sort of no-man’s land, and moving about constantly while being repulsed by any hostile territorial coyotes whose properties she slithered through. Maybe her odyssey was necessary: six months of wanderings which had the potential for forcing her to revert to some more essential coyote behaviors and away from all of the humanizing influences which she had lived with for so long — equivalent to an Australian Bushman’s “walkabout”.

Where did she go when she was driven away? It was an odyssey for her. I was able to follow most of her trajectory through extensive swaths of the city: to Glen Park, Diamond Heights, Noe Valley, Dolores Heights, Twin Peaks, and McLaren Park, among other places. And wherever she went, soon the strange hostile/exiler coyote appeared. I was able to catch up with her through friends’ photos, several trap cameras I put out, and Nextdoor postings with photos of her: the postings inevitably warned, “Please watch your cats and dogs”. Few people knew this coyote actually fled from cats! So our coyote kept fleeing. She would travel at night, dusk or dawn. Her amazing intuition told her how to distinguish friends from non-friends, and who would tolerate her presence and maybe even protect her when she took refuge in their yards. Some people named her. Some people fed her out of sympathy and concern: few people are aware of how negatively feeding impacts coyotes, as it already had in her “previous” life when she had been the reigning queen of her slope. Intermittently she tried returning “home”, but invariably she was repulsed again by the hostile intruder coyote gal who kept at her heels.

Tentative return: After months of wandering, remaining in places for a couple of weeks at a time before moving on, our coyote finally returned again to her old turf and, voilá, there was no hostile exiler around to drive her away for the first time in six months! At first people didn’t think this was our same coyote because her behaviors were so different from before: mainly she spent huge amounts of her time marking and “kicking dirt”, as though she were saying to the coyote who stole the site from her, “take that!” Even humans, in a language older than words, if they know what is going on, can read this type of animal body language.

So for weeks after her return, she spent her time reclaiming her territory, walking around while making visual and olfactory checks of the area, marking and kicking dirt extensively, self-grooming for long periods of time, absorbing odors and leaving hers, trotting her old routes, hunting, and generally trying to fit in again. This video depicts some of those activities when she first returned.

In some ways, she seemed wiser when she first returned, and on the whole, more elusive than before her odyssey: she spent less time out in the open and even stayed away for days at a time. I was happy to see this. Many people who knew her were hoping that she might have regained some primary coyote wildness while “abroad and dealing at times with an unfamiliar world”: it was a huge test, with the possibility of bringing into play survival skills which she never had used before. BUT, after only a few weeks back, she relapsed into responding to repeated misguided “human kindness”.  Food was again being left by roadways, so she was back in the streets searching for free handouts instead of hunting. She’s relapsed into again chasing cars and biting at their tires as they drive by: two days ago a car slammed on its brakes to avoid a direct hit. And she made several attempts at begging with a straight-in-the-eye look at people who passed by her. All of these behaviors of hers are a direct response to HUMAN behaviors. We need to change OUR behaviors in order to help her: please don’t feed her or leave food out for her. Coyotes are superb hunters: we can help her be that instead of the dependent beggar we are turning her into.



Recap of early life for those who haven’t followed her story: Until the point in her life when she was forced away, her life had been beyond charmed: unfolding as a fairy tale to many who observed her, and maybe even to the coyote herself. But many observers hadn’t taken the time to reflect on the larger picture: she had spent the first four years of her life being indelibly humanized and she needed to get back to normal — to her essential coyote self. This exile forced her to do so, but the results may be short-lived.

Her early-life urban-situation inherently fueled problems. At one point, she was hit by a car, leaving her with a temporary hip injury. Luckily the injury didn’t hamper her for long: she never lost her mobility — though she toppled over time and again as she attempted walking after the incident — and she stopped limping in less than two weeks. She had been prompted to chase cars by misguided people throwing her food from their cars — it took two years of everyday outreach before I could stop that behavior by halting the feeding. She was lucky that a car hadn’t killed her during that time: her predecessor in that location had been killed by a car which is why she was able to move in there — she had filled his vacated niche. Dogs chased her continually during her early years there, often right into street traffic, endangering both them and her. But actually, over time, people had been getting better and better at leashing up when they saw her, so this was happening much less than ever before. There had been other issues all perpetrated by humans, such as repeatedly feeding her, approaching too close, and befriending her, which little by little had eroded away her “coyote essence”, but these were all being corrected by more and more people abiding by, “just walk away from her; leave her alone and give her space”. On the whole life was pretty good to this happy-go-lucky coyote. It appears that the niche she had found and made her own worked for her: finding the right habitat apparently is primary for survival. I’ve heard that evolution is less about the “survival of the fittest” as previously thought, and more about “finding the right habitat”. Our coyote had chosen hers well.

And then things fortuitously got even better. How could things get better than this? But they did: a male companion appeared on the scene and became her best friend. Although he was a wanderer and seemed to have another lady-friend in another location, he always returned after only a few days’ absence during the four months they knew each other, and he and our coyote spent gobs of quality time in each other’s company simply enjoying each other. No one had ever seen our coyote — who had been a loner up to this point — happier. An added perk of this friendship: he was a supreme hunter, and this began rubbing off on her.

However, unbeknownst to our little female coyote, trouble was already brewing. Her best-buddy fella-friend had some family that followed him to her location, and that, ironically is what led to her life unraveling for the next six months. Few people are aware of how intense coyote internal lives, relationships, and their emotions are, or of their individuality and personalities, all of which have nothing to do with humans: not all good and bad which confront a coyote are created by humans, though, of course, a lot is, as this story points out.

So our coyote was driven away from her haven AND even pursued by a relative of the fella who had made her so happy. The relative was another female transient, an interloper, over two years of age who had recently been radio-collared in the Presidio. San Francisco does not radio-collar coyotes, but the Presidio which is federally owned, does. At the time of radio-collaring, it was found that this coyote had larger teeth than normal. Hmmm. . . Why? More interesting was her angry look. Did she harbor anger from being manhandled when she was collared?? Or from having to wear the large contraption around her neck? My friend Lou has noted that first-generation coydogs often have angry looks about them. Might she, then, be a coydog: a half dog?

Inside The Lives of Urban Coyotes

Most of my talks have been for closed groups, but on October 18th I’ve been invited to give an open-to-the-public talk for the Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA in Burlingame. You are welcome to come!

Update 10/27:   I was asked to make a video of the presentation for the group of people who wanted to attend my talk but were unable to, which I have done.  It’s not the same as the talk, obviously, and may feel a little flat without a live person there to make it come alive, but I hope it is informative nonetheless [see below].

My talk which featured my own observations, slides and videos, was really well received. I had an enthusiastic,  interested and complimentary audience of about 80 people, with some people sitting against the walls or standing. There were lots of questions and people wanted to know if I might be able to speak at their city councils and other venues.

The talk, as the flyer stated, emphasized coyote family life, but I spent a good deal of time on people, pets and concerns. It was about an hour long.

Here are a few photos of the event.  I want to thank Kylynn of the Peninsula HS/SPCA, and I want to thank my engaged audience. The talk was a super pleasure because of you all.

(Some topics we covered: family life, most coyote communication which is constant is silent, individuality, too much human love, incidents are rare, food is never unlimited which is the reason behind territoriality, issues with pets).

 

Hidden Wilderness: A Coyote Story, by Claire Gilchrist

I haven’t always been interested in coyotes. In fact, I lived in Vancouver, Canada, for over a decade before I even realized that coyotes were living there! That all changed one fateful night, a night that spurred my fascination with coyotes and eventually pushed me to write my novel Street Shadows.

It was late one evening and I was biking home from a friend’s house. I was almost home, passing through a dark cemetery with my dog Baker running easily by my side. I had done this route many times and was pedaling on autopilot, lost in thought.

Suddenly, a yelp caught my attention and I saw a grey shape surge out of the darkness, heading straight toward Baker. I had no idea what it was, and screamed. Baker, equally terrified, raced away from me. Pursued closely by the shape, he did a lap of the cemetery before turning to head back toward me. As he drew closer, fear made me jump off my bike and lift it above my head, yelling incomprehensibly. A few moments later, the shape retreated into the darkness, and I fled from the cemetery with Baker, feeling like I’d just barely escaped with my life.

It wasn’t until later, when my heart had stopped racing and I was sitting at home in front of a computer, that I realized that the mysterious shape was actually a coyote, and that it most certainly was not trying to kill me! In fact, judging from the time of year and local online reports, it was most likely defending a young litter of pups and threatened by my off-leash dog, who weighs about twice that of the average urban coyote. I’d probably caused the coyote a lot of panic, racing past its home with an unleashed dog by my side.

The encounter surprised and fascinated me because I’d always drawn a line between ‘urban’ and ‘wild’. I love nature, and have spent immeasurable hours getting myself and my family out of the city and into the wilderness, to places so remote we didn’t see another human for a week. What I hadn’t realized until this moment is that I didn’t actually have to leave the city to tap into wildlife. A hidden wilderness was happening right outside my front door. I had never seen it because I wasn’t looking for it.

Over the next few years, extensive research and a very active imagination turned into Street Shadows. An adventure tale of two urban coyote friends, the story focuses on what happens when humans develop some of the coyote territory into a housing development. It’s fiction, but explores a conflict that happens in our cities on a daily basis. I hope young readers will enjoy the glimpse into this hidden world, and perhaps even start to see their cities in a fresh light, with a new appreciation of all of their neighbours, both human and furry.

Street Shadows is geared toward kids ages 8-13, and launches across the USA on September 24th. I am excited to be able to share my fascination and imagination with others who are curious about this hidden wilderness.

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