Angel: A Melanistic Coyote Consigned to Permanent Rehab, by Kathy

Preamble by Janet:Although my primary work and the heart of my investigations are in San Francisco, this posting here carries us out of San Francisco and to Florida. Whereas the coyotes I document are all wild and free — and we want to keep them that way, the one in this posting is in a very different situation and dependent on humans for care and social interactions. The posting is about a small melanistic (black) coyote named Angel. We don’t have black coyotes out here in the West, it’s an Eastern Coyote phenomenon, and even rare there.

Black coyotes are not common at all and rarely seen in Florida— although hunters occasionally post their photos of melanistic coyotes they have killed, photos of live black coyotes are extremely rare: These two were photographed on a Wildlife Management Area in Florida see: http://wildflorida.com/articles/Black_Coyotes_in_Florida.php

A Stanford University team has studied the genetics of melanism (black color morph) in wolves, coyotes and dogs. This study reveals that the genetic mutation for melanism first arose in dogs some 50,000 years ago and was afterwards passed on to wolves and coyotes.

There must be some positive adaptive purpose—but no one knows exactly what the positive purpose is. We know that the protein beta-defensin 3, which regulates melanism in canids is involved in providing immunity to viral and bacterial skin infections.


A little background on me, Kathy:  I have no formal education or training when it comes to animals – strictly a love for them.  I am a volunteer at a reserve for exotics that no one wants anymore.  I fell in love with Angel when she arrived and have been pretty much her sole caretaker. I got involved with this volunteer work after going on a tour of this rescue facility.  It’s less than 5 miles from my house & I was retired.  Wasn’t sure they would want me because of my age, but lo and behold they said yes.  (I was 67 when I started there – now 73!!!)

The coyotes weren’t there when I started.  I found myself being drawn to the animals that other volunteers weren’t spending a lot of time with. (Everyone wants to spend time with big cats & wolves). Consequently, my first 2 special kids were the two female hyenas.  There is no one there who loves them more than I do!  We have a fantastic bond.

Then I decided Osiris, the African Serval, who was someone’s pet for 14 years, needed some human time. African Servals are crazy and very moody. I still love him though. When Angel came along, I waited awhile, but no one stepped up to the plate. Therefore, she’s my baby and everyone knows it. I’m so happy to work with her even though she has become my biggest challenge.

Angel’s backstory:  She was hit by a car in Florida when she was 3 months old.  A woman picked her up thinking she was a puppy and took her to her vet.  She had a broken leg & a broken pelvis. The vet identified her as a melanistic coyote and did not give her back to the woman who found her.  She then went to a rehab facility for 3 months.  In fixing her pelvis, the birth canal was narrowed so she couldn’t be released back into the wild – pregnancy would have killed her, consequently she came to us.

Angel’s behaviors:  I have been working with her for almost 5 years now.  In the beginning she was terrified of everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING.  With [wildlife animal behaviorist] Debbie’s help, I have been trying to get her to trust me more and have been somewhat successful.

When she first came there she would hide during the tours.  She still won’t come out when the group is in front of her enclosure; however, she will come out when they wind back around and are several feet from her home.  So the group does get to see her now & hear her story. Recently she has decided it’s perfectly okay to come out when very small groups are by her cage. She will come out when volunteers are near now. This is a big improvement from when she first arrived at our facility.

When I first started working with her and needed to give her flea meds I was never sure if she had ingested them or not. She didn’t want me watching her eat. After several long months, she now will take her treat & eat it, looking at me while I stand about 20 feet from her cage.  She still doesn’t want me to watch her eat anything else.  She has a log with holes drilled in it so I can put treats in there.  Have never seen her take anything out, but it’s always empty by the end of the day.

We got hit by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and that was traumatic for her.  Not only because of the storm, but because of the cleanup afterwards.  For quite some time we had tree specialists coming in and cutting down our larger trees so they don’t fall on cages during a heavy storm.  Shortly after the storm and when the trees guys were there a few days a week, she would eat & then vomit all of it up.  She was so scared.  When she didn’t stop this, I started feeding her whole rabbits or chickens & late in the afternoon when everyone was gone.  After a few months, I put her back on her regular diet & feeding in the morning.  Thought she was cured.  However, the other day we had 3 brand new volunteers working two enclosures down & I found her food regurgitated when I went in to clean. I have to pay particular attention to what is happening in her vicinity and change her feeding schedule accordingly.

She will now let me sit in her enclosure with her, but not too close.  She comes down from her elevated den box & will run laps while I sit there.  She is getting better about that & now will sometimes walk instead of run.  Sometimes she will come down to see what I am doing when I am outside her enclosure filing her water pail and splash tub. She lets me know when she’s had enough of me by going up to her den box & lying down.

She loves her stuffed animals & protects them like babies.  Takes them in when it rains so they don’t get wet.  So cute!

For quite some time we weren’t sure if Angel would join in with the wolves & coyotes when they did a group howl.  If has been confirmed by some volunteers who have seen and heard her that she is joining in.  That’s  good news.  She feels comfortable to join them, but not when we humans are within sight!

I can now approach her when she is on her platform without her freaking out.  She lets me get to the edge of the platform before she backs into the den box.  Whenever she is fearful, she will pull her ears back & flatten them.  Of course, I stop whatever I am doing at that point.

I could probably go on and on, but this will give you some idea of how she acts.

By the way, we have 6 other coyotes, who exhibit similar skittishness, but not to the extent that Angel displays. As for these other coyotes, I share the responsibility with a couple of people.  There are 3 pairs and they don’t get along – hence we have plywood between the cages blocking their access to each other.  I prepare the diets 3 days/week & clean their cages 3 days/week.  One of the other volunteers had calmed Sundance down to the point where she will allow a couple of us to pet her, mostly from the outside of the cage.  She has now become very used to me and will let me pet her while I am in her enclosure.  The other day she actually rolled over and let me pet her belly.  What a trusting gesture that was!!Only one of them is aggressive – Cheyenne, a female, who has bitten (lightly) two volunteers on the butt.  Hasn’t tried it with me yet!