It’s Earthday 2020: How do we coexist with wildlife? by Kathy Howard

What is Earth Day and why do we celebrate it?

  • Earth Day is a yearly celebration which takes place on April 22. More than 193 nations organize Earth Day events, and they are coordinated by the Earth Day Network. The objectives for the events include sensitizing the global population on environmental concerns and demonstrating support for environmental protection.


To read more, click on the image, or click here.

Abused

What comes to mind when you are told that an animal has been “abused”? “Roughed up” or “deprived” or even “killed” are what most of us might think. But the term also means corrupted and compromised. This might be an extreme way of looking at the situation, but I’m hoping to drive the point home — and to increase awareness. This coyote, pictured above, listlessly wanders around or hangs around on park pathways, waiting for handouts: he’s been dulled by the humans around him who allow or encourage this behavior. He has lost his desire to hunt for himself and he has lost his wariness of humans: You might say these have been stolen from him by misguided feeders, and compounded by everyone who approaches or tries to befriend him — he thinks of all of these people as potential feeders. Folks who treat coyotes familiarly as tame Walt Disney cutouts may not be aware of the harm they are doing.

As he lounges around, his pace is slow, almost lethargic and his look is mournful, his ears are air-planed down and out to the sides. He’s not sick, though he might look so to many of us. My wildlife behaviorist contact suggests that this behavior is a “conditioned response”: he’s learned that it gets him what he wants: food, and maybe sympathy which will lead to food. He’s exceptionally good at his ploy. However, he’s also exceptionally good at hunting for himself — I’ve seen it. But, being the opportunist that coyotes are, he’s taking advantage of a situation and of a gullible and needy public which is falling into line for him. To them, the coyote looks scrawny (all coyotes are scrawny) and needs food. Or they want to “connect” with nature — “that’s my coyote” “that’s my friend“, I’ve heard. 

I understand people feeding and even trying to befriend wild coyotes have good intentions. Good intentions however do not always lead to good practices. Hand feeding and approaching coyotes can lead to negative outcomes for the coyotes, and sometimes humans.

*Coyotes are wild animals with instincts that tell them to stay away from humans and dogs. These instincts, paired with the opportunity to get easy food from humans — a learned behavior — creates a conflict within the animals.

*This conflict may 1) cause animals at times to move quickly and fearfully which can lead to accidental defensive bites. Or, as the animals become desensitized to people and are fed, they 2) may slow down as their fear dissipates. They come to expect food and when it does not come they may become frustrated. The frustration then may lead to aggressive demand behavior.  This is another scenario that can lead to a bite.

These push-pull conflicts are stressful for the animals. Studies show that cortisol, a stress hormone, is high in wild animals taking chances by getting closer to humans. Stress, in turn, may cause an animal to become reactive (bite): we know that most bites to humans are the result of approaching and feeding. A couple of weeks ago a little girl in an East Bay regional park was bitten<https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Coyote-attacks-6-year-old-girl-in-Dublin-park-15173092.php> by a coyote. 

Although I don’t know yet what provoked the attack, I’m sure there was a trigger.  The first possible explanation (not excuse) for the attack is people feeding the coyotes there — this is what’s behind most bites.  Also, pupping season is going on right now, and the sudden surge of people into the parks (due to the coronavirus) along with human encroachment close to a den area may have been involved. It is stress and fear that cause a coyote to become reactive — not aggression or that they’re hunting us — humans aren’t on their menu.

CA Fish & Game has killed one coyote as a solution to prevent further bites. It was the wrong coyote, so they will kill more: coyote’s don’t get their first bite free as dogs do. A ranger from CA Fish & Game told me that the department would be merciless towards any coyotes who bite, or scratch, or . . . brush up against a human. CAF&G could even start going after “potential biters” who are getting too close to people. EDUCATION and changing OUR behaviors is the long-term solution. Coyotes don’t learn a thing by being killed, but they can learn from our behaviors that we aren’t here for their convenience — we just have to learn how to act.

You can help this coyote, or any like him, to be the wary animal he is supposed to be instead of the dulled and enervated, and deceptively “tamed” animal he has now become. Please do not feed. Please do not befriend or act friendly towards him. Please do not approach or let him approach you. These human behaviors are not only compromising his wily wildness, they are setting him up for a possible sorry end. . . and setting up you or another walker for a possible nip. We need to scare him off if he’s sitting right on or close to the path waiting for handouts — he should be keeping at least 50 feet away from anyone. Please do this for the healthy stewardship of our coyotes as well as for your own safety.

The worst part of this story is that now two of his family members are echoing his behavior — coyotes learn by imitating their elders. They, too are now turning into replica deadbeat coyotes [DEADBEAT: one who makes a soft living by sponging it] who hang around lazily and almost languidly hoping for human handouts. We all need to scare them away or walk away from them always. Please let’s reverse his/their developing stray-dog behavior: even stray dogs bite. And please be an ambassador for them by helping others know what needs to be done. By doing so, you could be saving his life.

The two youngsters taking on the fed coyote’s behaviors.

*Including edits from a Wildlife Behaviorist who prefers remaining anonymous.

More: Food: the Behavior Shaper, and  Human Kindness Could Kill Our Coyote — wherein the detriment of feeding from cars is discussed.

How Coyotes Conquered American Cities, by William Poor

This short video clip is well done. That I appear in it makes it extra special, though my contribution is limited to just my advocacy work and includes none of my fieldwork or behavioral studies, nor the DNA project I’m working on.

Making Peace With Coyotes, by Tripp Robbins

More and more articles about coyotes are appearing which give a more rounded view of coyotes along with useful guidelines for coexistence. These are replacing the sensationalist and fear-provoking writeups which predominated only a few years ago. Thank you, Tripp Robbins and Half-Moon Bay Review for your contribution in this direction! [Press image to the left to read the article, or use the embedded version below]

[*One clarification: I’ve actually been studying/documenting many more than just one coyote family here in San Francisco over the last 13 years. It’s been as high as 11 locations and as many as seven families at one time. I’m limiting myself to four families in-depth these days, and a simple “check-in” with the others: if I see something exciting occurring in those where I simply check-in, I dive in deeper there.]

Update: Incisive Perception and Ingenuity, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet,

Hope all is well. Just wanted to give you an update on that coyote pair that has taken the 3 new ewes.

An important part of sheep operations is careful steps insuring the biosecurity of the flock. This means any newcomers are kept in quarantine even if all records on health are up to date. This usually means an area set apart for new sheep to acclimate, etc before breeding or being released in land and in flock.

It depends. But 2-5 weeks is often the time frame. A pair of new ewes in quarantine with cameras has revealed much.

A pair of old, experienced and semi retired LGD works the quarantine area. And they are indeed dedicated to protecting that area. But it’s obvious, new sheep are nervous. It takes time to settle with new dogs. As soon as new sheep are in the quarantine, that night the pair of coyote visit. They do not enter the pasture. But between 2 and 5 am, they visit. They sit on hay bales, tractors and nearby hill and study the newcomers. They keep far enough not to challenge or agitate the dogs too much. This pattern of visits indicates these new ewes are picked out and studied weeks before being allowed to joining flock or breeding. And likely, exploring a new range and integrating in a new herd makes them stand out even more, and in very wide spaces out of sight of humans, they likely continue to stand out even more.

So…camera recordings indicate intense scrutiny for many days by this coyote pair. They hunt rodents like normal..but “check on” new sheep nightly. The process of quarantine and biosecurity (necessary on a sheep farm) seems to tell them something. A vulnerability. A claim these sheep don’t quite “belong”. Strangers in a strange land so to speak.

Likely releasing the new sheep signals opportunities not associated with resident herds. Its not black and white. But it shows a weakness in isolation, even with dogs present.

So, right away, we implement changes. New ewes being bred to Ram will stay in guarded pastures. No ranging and roaming for them. They will be kept and bred in security, and shipped back immediately to their respective farms.

I haven’t even touched on the subjects of individuals scent, or bonds with LGD…or lack of them. Those worlds within worlds no doubt are a conversation that sheep, dogs and coyote have often. We continue to study and interpret this best we can.

Sheep. Dogs. Coyote.

It can be a precarious situation. But it’s possible if we learn (and relearn) the language.

(if this seems complex, just imagine tourists in NYC or anywhere-depending on area, they may attract locals in the wrong way. That’s what has been created here.)

PS: At 1st I just couldn’t believe the dynamics. But then actually, we all do this all the time. New neighbors warrant attention. While neighborhoods generate a “feel” and pattern of life that locals tune into intuitively. Most of us now a stranger or changed patterns in our personal space.

These coyote have apparently followed human and dog dynamics. Sheep set apart. Sheep isolated. Sheep kept apart. In nature, long term isolation indicates prey in trouble and not moving as the rest move. Isolated sheep not in cycle with resident sheep stand out, and somehow gave birth to a new behavior. They are an opportunity and green light. Also, we think the dogs are dedicated to territory and livestock to degrees. Some of these dogs have literally nursed as pups from sheep. They create various bonds while offering general protection. It’s possible newcomers or strangers get least protection or need time to create some sort of familiarity. After all, we aren’t close to new people until we know them.

PPS: If one wants to struggle always, then we just do whatever it takes and act fast.. But if one wants to learn, and last, and be aware, and minimize loss and maximize profit, if we want healthier land and livestock, and if want to enjoy wildlife and leave lands for generations to come…then we watch…we study..we listen to nature…and use strategy. Wisdom.

That how a ranch, livestock and wildlife can last generations.
🐾

Incisive Perception, by Walkaboutlou

The title applies not just to the coyotes, but also to the author and rancher who are figuring this out and willing to change their human behaviors to make it work.

Hi Janet,

This past weekend we got a reminder that while successful sheep raising among coyote is totally possible and achievable, it can on occasions be challenging.

This ranch I check on is very efficient. The LGD (livestock guard dog) are spread out in teams of 2-3. They are all experienced and steady and bonded to their sheep. The rancher doesn’t allow deceased sheep to lay about. All new lambs are birthed in specially designed areas.

Most of all, the local coyote are “trained” well, and live off the abundant rodent, jackrabbit and deer. They rarely test the sheep.

Until recently.

A very strange and particularly specific behavior has surfaced. A pair of coyote have preyed on 3 different ewes the last 2 weeks.

What is so unusual is all 3 ewe were visiting to be bred by the ranch’s top Ram. They were visitors, though to our eyes you couldn’t pick them out among other sheep. They are same breed. Same Looks.

But obviously something has set them apart. We suspect somehow the coyote not only “know” a newcomer, but somehow have been given a green light for predation. The LGD ironically may be subliminally less protective of a “new” or strange ewe. It seems unlikely, but this is totally uncharacteristic. This ranch hasn’t experienced any predator losses for years. Something has occurred.

Whenever any new challenge arises, it’s good to sit back, review and so some analysis. What has changed? What is different? What is the true situation? It’s easy to say “coyote can’t help themselves”…but that isn’t true. Many coyote have shown they can and do refrain from certain choices. And when they have for years…and then suddenly take 3 ewes, 3 VISITING ewe, (one at a time)…you have to sort it out, or at least make it unavailable for them. Another ewe is slated to visit for breeding. She will be kept in small pasture with ram and dog and cameras.

It just shows, the dynamics, changes and circumstances never are 100% predictable. But we’re determined to solve or at least stop this new behavior of new ewe predation by changing our behaviors.

Lou🐾

PS:
What I’m learning from this is just as guard dogs may not guard a stranger or neighbor’s house…an LGD may not necessarily guard all livestock or livestock it isn’t “bonded to”. It can vary and obviously we don’t know all. We do know that obviously the herd, the dog’s….and coyote…recognize new livestock…and it’s possible there are vulnerabilities here, at least in this ranch, we never thought about.

It seems crazy…but it’s possible that some dogs may give “permission” to coyote in certain situations. Its something we want to avoid and modify. Elimination of this coyote pair isn’t an option because we don’t know what the inevitable replacement would be like. It’s always better to influence and modify coyote behavior rather then see what new nomad shows up. (and it’s always several vying nomads which increases instability for a time) We will change this current canine conversation/dynamics eventually.

It’s always dynamics, fluctuations and new learning with coyote. There are so many variables of behaviors and different situations the coyote is truly a canid chameleon. They are very different in their various regions, strategy and skill. Even individually.

[Read the UPDATE posted on February 5]

Presentation in El Cerrito

For those who had wanted to attend my PHS/SPCA talk and couldn’t make it, I’ve been invited to give that same talk again in El Cerrito on Tuesday, January 14th. Although it has a different title, it will be the same talk. Again, if you can’t make it, I’ve recorded the talk and made it available here.

The talk is on January 14th at 7pm at El Cerrito City Hall in the city council chamber room, 10890 San Pablo Ave.,  El Cerrito 94530.
[Kensington Outlook, March 2020, Family First: Wily Coyote’s Here To Stay, by Linnea Due.]

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