Carl Safina: A Talk at WildCare

Carl Safina is one of my great heroes, as he is many other people’s.  All my views about sentient wildlife, examples of which I see daily as I watch my coyotes, are confirmed by Carl. When he speaks, I feel as though he is taking the words right out of my mouth — every single word and thought about animals as feeling and thinking critters. The difference is that he is an academic, and to have an academic stand up for these things is an important turn of events, though late in the coming. Academics have long separated humans absolutely from all other species and they don’t tolerate anthropomorphizing which they consider unsupportable and therefore fanciful. In fact, accurate anthropomorphizing is no longer thought of as unsupportable: it’s the path that behavioral research is now taking.

I see a lot of coyote behavior for many hours each day. I have spoken a lot about coyote feelings and their intense family lives — lives which really are not so different from our own in a great many respects. I’ve had some academics pooh-pooh what I say. But Carl, as Jane Goodall, who has actually spent time watching the animals as I have, supports these same ideas. Theories and studies of focused slices of animal behavior do not cover the same ground as being in the field watching the whole picture: an animal going about its life.

It’s because an animal feels hungry that he eats, feels tired that he sleeps, feels joy that he plays, feels affection that he caresses another. It’s what they feel that actually drives their lives. Above that, their amazing family ties and lives are a wonder to watch: a microcosm of your favorite soap opera, with a cliff-hanger every day!

Carl says that our need to see ourselves as above anything else speaks volumes about our insecurities. In fact, what makes humans different is that we do things to the extreme, which animals don’t do: We are, at the same time, the most compassionate and the cruelest of the species; the most creative and the most destructive of them. This is what makes us human. Having emotions and emotional bonds are not what distinguishes us as human.

Please make sure to check out Carl’s recent book, which now can be obtained in paperback: Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel.

I took notes at Carl’s talk, but rather than present them here, I’m linking to a video of the exact same lecture given by him elsewhere: straight from the horse’s mouth.

 

Smiling and Showing the Tip of The Tongue

A coyote smiles when it is happy! I have noticed coyotes smile especially during and after playtime.

Smiling is also a method of purposefully communicating goodwill. In this sense, I’ve seen smiling during play, when “getting rough” might have overtones of aggression which could easily be misinterpreted. Since playing incorporates all the moves of real-life fighting — even though it is “not for real” — play could be interpreted as aggressive if it were not for the smile. I have also seen smiles used as a communication device to disarm another coyote who is angry. Smiling signals “I’m not a threat to you. I’m not going to challenge you. I want to please you. I like you.”

And, I have had a coyote seemingly smile at me: “Hey, I see you down there and I’m okay with that.” Facial expressions function the same way in coyote society as it does in human society. Coyote society is highly socially organized according to dominance and pack loyalty, so it comes in handy.

Related to this is showing the tip of the tongue. I see this as a small kiss. It appears to communicate the same message as smiling, but in this case, it is almost always when there might have been room for negative misinterpretation of the coyote’s intentions. It appears to be almost as a gesture of apology.

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Hmmm. Not So Sure About the ‘Closeness’ Here

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Coyote pairs are becoming cozy again. It’s that time of year. They are spending more time together than in the last few months. Most of the time, both partners appear to be mutually involved — mutually attracted. But I wonder if this is always true?

I watched as the male (right) of this mated pair came out of the bushes and approached the female who was lying in the grass. Rather than joyful greetings when she saw him coming, she put her head down in a manner of *resignation* and waited. The greeting ritual here involved dominance on his part, and some kind of trepidation on her part. It was not the “ever so happy to see you” excitement that I’ve come to expect from other coyote pair greetings, even though those, too, involved a degree of hierarchical activity.

I wondered how often coyotes are in relationships that aren’t mutually desired?

This female seems to like her independence. She spends time alone on a hill where she hunts or rests curled up in a little ball. He, on the other hand, keeps himself less visible by spending time in the bushes during daytime hours. Whereas she always takes off to walk and explore on her own, he has a need to shadow her or wait for her, and when he looses her, say because of dogs or people approaching, he’ll look for her for a short time and then head back to his bushes at a slow and listless pace with head slumped down — one can’t help but read this as disappointment and dejection. Of course, they’ll meet up later in the evening, but he obviously wants to go trekking with her. She doesn’t seem to really care, and makes no effort to locate him after they get separated.

Goodwill Teasing!

There was almost no light, and there were tall grasses between the camera and the coyotes, so these photos are totally washed out and blurry. However, the behavior depicted in them is absolutely fabulous: I decided it was worth it to post them, so I enhanced them as best I could.

A little female yearling coyote “teases” her dad and then her brother by affectionately stretching herself on top of them, and either nuzzling their legs as in the case of her father, or nuzzling their ears, as in the case of her brother! Her behavior was good-willed fun. It was not meant to provoke any kind of reaction — it was simply a display of her affectionate teasing. It looks like this little gal has two BFFs!!

She had been out alone, whiling away the time until the daily family get-together/rendezvous time.

Then her brother appeared and he was absolutely ecstatic to see her. He seemed to “jump for joy” as she and their dad approached him: first he performed one bounce, then one squiggle sitting down, and finally a jump, squiggle and bounce all at the same time!

2014-06-17 (8)Then they all piled up together where there were the usual kisses/nose-touches and wiggly-squiggly movements which are a dead giveaway for the excitement and joy they were feeling.

 

After the general excitement of the initial encounter and greeting died down, the female youngster “hopped on Pop”. It was affectionate contact that they both soaked up. She then twisted her head down and around him and gave him little love nuzzles and bites on his legs. Wow!

The three then broke out into an intense play session: they chased each other wildly, they wrestled, they groomed each other — no photos because the movement in tall grasses with no light just shows blurs. These are all activities which regularly follow the initial rendezvous greetings after spending the day apart sleeping.

During the intensive play period, the female youngster jumped on her brother, as she had done to her dad earlier. Only this time she tugged at one of his ears and then the other, teasing him affectionately.

They played intensively some more and then ran off and out of sight. They would spend the night trekking!

 

photos 6-17pm

After the Lashing

A couple of days after I had videoed a mother coyote lashing out at one of her seven-month old pups — a female, I witnessed a change in behavior between two of the pups towards their mom. These are both females, though I have no idea if gender had anything to do with what I observed.

I watched as Mom came into a large field where three of her pups were absorbed in foraging in three different spots. All pups stopped their foraging activity immediately when they saw her. Two of the pups dashed like bullets across the field in her direction.

Male pup greets Mom enthusiastically

Male pup greets Mom enthusiastically

One of the pups that dashed in her direction, the male, went straight up to her, as always, to greet her, tail flailing with excitement. There were the usual kisses and wiggly little excited movements that indicate all is happy and well between them. He attempted getting food from her, but she had none to offer, and it didn’t really seem to matter.

A female pup heads into the bushes -- right past her Mother who is greeting her son

A female pup heads into the bushes, right past her Mom who is greeting her son [you can see pup’s back & tail at top of photo]

Interestingly, the second pup, a female, who had also headed in Mom’s direction, went straight past Mom — who was in the process of greeting the male pup — and into the bushes! She did not stop to participate in the happy greeting which I had always seen her do before. Hmmm. Was she afraid of the mother, having seen the harsh treatment dished out to the other daughter? This would be my guess. All of these are new behaviors, beginning with the lashings of the one daughter, and I can’t help  thinking that they are all related.

The seven-month old female pup who had been  the target of lashings by Mom

The seven-month old female pup who had been the target of lashings by Mom, watching

The female pup who had received the lashing did not head towards the mother coyote.  Even though she was a long distance away from where Mom entered the field, she ran into the bushes closest to her and hung out there, hidden, for a few minutes. Eventually she came out of her hiding place, sat down, and just watched from about 400 feet away — she had no interest in approaching her mother. She looked sad to me.

The mother looked at her for a moment, and eventually moved on and out of sight. Not until then did this daughter continue her foraging before heading into the bushes for the day. There is always communication when coyotes look at one another. I wonder what information their “look” conveyed.

Youngster Makes a Quick Dashaway

The youngster in the middle here is a seven-month old male pup. He’s on good terms with both his parents. He greets both parents, and then Dad, to the left, “puts the youngster down.”

Dad has been out of commission for several days, at least during my observations, due to an injury he sustained either from an aggressive dog or possibly from a fight with a raccoon: his face and head have lacerations, and he limps on both his left legs. I’ve noticed that injured coyotes lay low for a while. Because of his recent absence, he may have a need to re-establish his position in the family hierarchy, which may be why he puts this pup down. The youngster submits easily.

Mom is to the right. She has just finished a pretty amazing harsh attack on this youngster’s female sibling.  Is this youngster fearful of the same punishment which has just been dished out to his sister?

Bay Nature: Coyotes Raising Kids in San Francisco

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Continue reading by pressing this link: http://baynature.org/articles/photo-gallery-coyotes-raising-kids-san-francisco/

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