Tragedy Strikes an Urban Coyote Family: Goodbye Mouse; but Good News: Hello Hunter**

THIS REPLACES THE POST I SENT OUT LAST NIGHT, which suddenly had a drastic change.

[For those who know Scout and her story, and for those who have inquired about what happened to her first companion of two years ago, his continuing story is included].

It’s only the middle of October, and we’ve already had 20 coyote car deaths this year in San Francisco — usually we count about 10 a year. Two coyotes were brought in by ACC on July 1 from the same area, one was identified as a four-year-old male and the other as a yearling. It’s about at that time that the four-year-old alpha male of the West Portal family disappeared and was not seen for three months. I assumed one of the dead coyotes was him — until he showed up yesterday on a trap camera — three months later — almost causing my eyes to pop out: yes, it’s definitely him. That’s the good news. But the tragedy of the car deaths isn’t lessened because it’s not him or by not knowing who the killed individual coyote was or his story. Thinking it was Hunter, I wrote up and posted his story yesterday, which I’ve revised as an update, rather than as the obituary I thought it was. Mark Twain’s famous quote came to mind: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”. But please remember that the killed four-year-old also had an individual story of his own which was probably as interesting as Hunter’s, so I’m penning down Hunter’s story instead. It’s this individuality, and the many dimensions involved in their lives that I want to convey.

Then, still within the summer months, only two weeks ago and almost three months after those deaths, Mouse, who was Hunter’s mate, was also struck by a car and killed: she was an alpha in the prime of her life, with a yearling still in her family group and three pups born this year — another of her youngsters was the other coyote killed on July 1st of this summer. Maybe these are just statistics to most people, but to me they are individuals: they have histories, families, habits, territories and personalities, many of which I know and follow. I am unable to identify the killed four-year-old, but I have known Hunter since his birth in North Beach, and Mouse since about the same time, though she was older. It’s a good time to jot down a short recap/synopsis of them, and remembering that the killed male four-year-old has his own version of such a story.

That individual coyotes are very similar to us on a number of levels is confirmed constantly by my observations of various individuals over extended periods of time. They are not like our dogs whose lives are directed and helped by their human caretakers: in a way, dogs are like perpetual children who never grow up and become independent. These coyotes, on the other hand, are in charge of themselves and must rely on their own ingenuity and intelligence to achieve their own survival: and they are wonderful survivalists, without any of the societal supports we humans can count on, except for their families. Like us, they work and play and have emotions including joy, anger, jealousies, rivalries, and very different relationships with each individual in their families. They are extremely social, family minded, communicative, and are always interacting. I see different character and personality traits in each: they are individuals. When the time comes, like in our own families, coyote yearlings either leave their birth-families on their own or are pushed out. Many then remain “loners” for awhile, until that special “other someone” comes along. Walkaboutlou tells a wonderful story about how Chica, between two suitors, chose the one who gifted her a rabbit. It doesn’t sound so different from us, does it? Sometimes catastrophes occur, and sometimes life is smooth sailing for many years. Eventually they get old with all of its attendant problems: they become hard of hearing, hard of seeing, arthritic and tired, and may be forced out of their homes by younger more robust coyotes who need the territory for their own families, or they just seem to fade away and never appear again. In my view, they live parallel lives to our own, similar to the “hobbits” living “over there” in the shire, with their own culture (culture is learned behavior that is passed on), goals, needs, and with the intelligence needed to direct their own lives as successfully (or unsuccessfully) as we direct ours. Each life is very different — and I enjoy discovering them and writing about them for everyone to know about.

HUNTER: Born April 2, 2017

It turns out he was not the guy hit by the car. I’m sure the killed guy had a story as rich as Hunter’s, which is why I’m including Hunter’s story here. Each coyote killed by a car has a story, even though we might not know it.

Hunter
Hunter as a pup is in the middle

Hunter was one of four surviving pups out of seven born in April of 2017 in North Beach to Cai and Yote who had been the long-term mated claimants to that fragmented territory. The four included 3 males and one female. The female was quieter, but the “guys” played roly-poly pell-mell interminably, roughhousing, chasing, playing keep away, etc., things all littermates do. They remained together for over a year and a half which is when signs of friction between the male siblings took a turn.

The first to disperse was Hunter. Hunter was mild and easy going. It’s his brothers who carried most of the energy, and maybe that’s why they picked on him.  He was driven out by his own two brothers in a fight on August 1, 2018 at 16 months of age: there was biting and tail-pulling and growling. I happened to be there to record it.

Razor sharp eye contact!

I lost track of him for a while, until he appeared on the territory of a lone female in 2018 about five miles from his birthplace. His dispersal travels may have taken him throughout the city before he found this place. Most coyotes, by the way end up moving south and out of the city with only a few being incorporated into existing territories within the city. Here, then, the camaraderie and togetherness between that loner and Hunter was eye-opening in an amazing way. It was absolutely obvious how smitten they each were with the other. They would walk along gazing in each others eyes — often with little hops and skips of excitement as they went along. Their play also was enchanting beyond words: joyful and caring. And here is a video of them playing and cuddling. This coziness went on for about six months, until a territorial challenger came into the scene. Both the female and Hunter fled in opposite directions.

A few months later, I found Hunter again, now hanging out with a cute coyote gal on HER territory about 3 miles away. They had obviously become a devoted pair, even if they didn’t show the intense camaraderie he had had with his previous companion. They settled down and had a litter of three in someone’s backyard, and Hunter spent every evening during the early part of that pupping season at his lookout post on a closeby lawn. His need to protect only came to fruition when dogs intruded into his space, or cast evil-eyes of some sort in his direction (this is how all dogs and coyotes communicate and it’s almost always well below our radar). It’s why I tell folks to keep their dogs far away from coyotes.

Hunter on sentry duty outside his denning area

Coyotes simply want dogs to leave them and their areas alone. Above is an image of him guarding the den area of this first litter — he’s on the front lawn with that wall you see right at the edge of the sidewalk. Those youngsters became yearlings and could sometimes be seen in person or on security cameras in the neighborhood. That den area became unusable the next year when the owner put up a fence, so Hunter and his mate moved to an expansive fenced-in community where no dogs were allowed: what a perfect setup! Two of the three youngsters remained to help tend the new litter of three which is now six months old: they are almost full-sized, but not at all grown up yet.

We thought this was Hunter hit by a car, but it turned out to be another coyote.

At first I didn’t miss Hunter. He had always been much less omnipresent than the others, appearing only at regular intervals which is how I kept track of him. I stopped seeing him altogether about three months ago and wondered WHY: was he ill — ill coyotes tend to make themselves less conspicuous, or had he abandoned the family to join another — I’ve seen a couple of instances of this now, or was he hit by a car? Then, I was given this photo, left, by Akio Kawai with the date and location of the image. It turns out that ACC had picked up this coyote which was identified as a four-year-old male. Coyotes have no idea how deadly cars are. I had seen Hunter trot through the neighborhoods and knew he did so regularly, where he seemed to have an ongoing oneupmanship relationship with one of the unkindnesses of ravens: A little fun with some alarmist ravens. My thought when I was given this photo was that possibly a routine had made him become careless. BUT, it turns out that killed coyote was not Hunter, though it easily could have been him. Rather it was another coyote with his own story which I was not able to capture.

MOUSE: ~2015 to September 30, 2021

Mouse

I did not know Mouse as a pup, so I don’t know where she came from, though the DNA I’ve collected will give us a clue. She had a harrowing and dramatic story of her own.

ACC tried saving two of the pups who died anyway.

Mouse first caught my attention when neighbors were complaining about “hostile” coyotes in their neighborhood in 2017. She and her then-mate were of course protecting their pups from dogs. I don’t think it was understood by everyone that they needed to keep their dogs away from any coyotes –FAR away from them, especially during the long pupping season. The next year the situation with the neighbors apparently worsened. And that’s when one of the neighbors decided to exclude the coyotes who had been coming around to his home. He sealed up the area under his porch to keep them out, not knowing that pups had already been born there. The parents were frantic and tried communicating their distress for about a week, but of course, no human understood until it was too late. The pups did not survive. It must have been an absolutely tortuous ordeal for these coyote parents — their pups are the most important thing to them. I don’t know what happened to that mate — he disappeared, and may have done so because of no youngsters: his job had been to guard those pups, but he failed.

That’s when Hunter appeared on the scene and paired up with Mouse. They ended up producing two years of litters together. I only knew two of the yearlings born last year, two males who, the next year, helped feed, discipline, play with, and babysit the younger litter born this year. This family for the most part kept itself below human radar during daylight hours, but could be seen in neighbors’ security cameras as they trekked through the neighborhood at night.

Surveillance cameras capture them trekking at night (courtesy Jon Guggenheimer)

Below are photos of the two yearlings who remained to take care of this years’ pups, and a photo of the pups born this year which I only ever saw on a field camera. Mouse was TINY but could appear ferocious when guarding her pups: that’s her in the posting I linked above about pupping behavior. Routine family life for them involved quiet daylight hours, and then the youngsters would play intensely at night while the oldsters went out hunting and marking their territories to keep other coyotes out. Being social, they interacted incessantly with each other, and had different relationships among themselves based on their personalities and position in the family.

When Hunter no longer appeared, Mouse was more omnipresent in the denning area of her territory — she felt secure there — no dogs were allowed in the area. The disappearance of a mate has huge consequences for a coyote. Without a mate, the territory is harder if not impossible to defend. And if she were to lose her territory, well, life without a territory becomes much, much more precarious: having a territory creates a lot of security and stability for coyotes. Within six weeks of Hunter’s disappearance, a new pair of coyotes had moved into an adjacent fragment of their territory. Hunter was no longer marking the area, and the new coyotes would have sensed the male’s absence. Mouse was tiny and alone with her pups and now only one male yearling who probably would not have been able to fight off the newcomers. I wonder if Mouse understood this situation as such.

Then, starting on September 30th, she herself no longer appeared at all where I had seen her multiple times daily. With Mouse’s tragic death, all exuberant play by the youngsters ceased, and instead, over the last two weeks they appeared pacing and waiting and sniffing. We’ll have to see how the story unfolds.

Please drive carefully. Cars kill many dispersing yearlings, but they Please drive carefully. Cars kill many dispersing yearlings, but they also have killed a bunch of alphas I had followed, including Myca in 2007, Maeve in 2013, the Unknown Four-Year-Old Male in 2021, Mouse in 2021, Bonnie in 2019. This year has been a big one for cars killing coyotes.

One last interesting point: Within six weeks of Hunter’s disappearance, a new pair of coyotes had moved into an adjacent portion of their territory. Hunter was no longer marking the area, and the new coyotes would have sensed the male’s absence. Mouse was tiny and alone with her pups and one male yearling who probably would not have been able to fight off the newcomers. I wonder if Mouse knew this. I’ve even wondered if Mouse didn’t put in the effort to get away from the killer car. Her mate was gone, and it takes two coyotes to defend a territory. Animals, too, become depressed — and yes, coyotes have intense emotions.

Death at Dawn

I’m entitling this posting, “Death at Dawn”. Of course, I have no idea exactly what time of day this coyote died, but I chose to say “dawn” because really, it appears to have died at the dawn of its life, not at its sunset: it appears to be a juvenile, judging by the length of its snout. Death is of course part of life and something we all come to. When we are worn out, we come to it easily — see Walkaboutlou’s posting: The Story of one of my Oldest Coyotes, but most of us fight it to the end — our instinct is to live — and we have to deal with the myriad of circumstances which can snuff us out.

I was called by a friend, Susan, about a dead coyote at Fort Funston. Susan’s friend, Cassarra along with another friend Emily and their dogs, generously lead me out along the trails of Fort Funston to pick up this coyote. It had first been spotted almost a month earlier by dog walkers, yet still remained intact on the cliffs of the beach. I document coyote family lives which, naturally, includes their deaths, and I gather samples for DNA analysis at UC Davis for further information.

We headed out on the sand trails and slid down deep sandy crevices, through California coastal scrub, and up steep inclines of iceplants, led by Cassarra, a veteran dog walker who knows every inch of the terrain. We wound up and down and around for about 1/4 mile and finally could see the coyote’s white remains way up the cliff, close to the top where the scrub forest began. We headed up. As we got closer, I thought to myself: OMG, this coyote is much bigger than what I expected, how am I going to carry it back? And it looked bigger and bigger looming above us as we approached it . . . . maybe it was the lighting, maybe just the way it stood out perched on the cliff on the iceplants. When we finally reached it and actually stood over it, we could see its true size: it was tiny, and pretty dessicated.

By just seeing the body, we can gather a lot of information: usually age can be determined by looking at the teeth, sex, possibly why the coyote died. We gather DNA from samples to determine even more information about the individual and his/her family clan.

Cassarra led the expedition: she knows every inch of Fort Funston through her dog walking

This coyote was approaching being a mummy — he/she was dried-out to the extent that I could not sex her/him. There were few whiskers, but I got some. Saved a good portion of the ear in ethanol. Got a handful of fur from his/her back which I put in a baggie and labeled, all per instructions of UC graduate student Tali Caspi: all of these samples are for DNA analysis so we can know more about his/her family group and who else in the city she/he is related to which will lead us to its dispersal history, hopefully. I got pictures of the teeth. Small size, especially of the head and length of the snout, led me to believe it was a youngster, but wear on the lower front teeth may tell a different story.

The most interesting thing was that, although from a distance he/she looked so peaceful lying on the brightly colored ice-plant carpet, this coyote was found with an expression of agony on its face, jaw agape and something stuck in its throat or windpipe. We are left with the impression that he/she died because of this, trying to get it out: the young coyote had choked to death. Had he or she found something, been tossing it in the air and caught it incorrectly, when it became the deadly suffocant? We don’t know, but it looked like this is what happened. These kinds of freak accidents happen in nature. I remember seeing a photo of a fox hanging on a limb by its back legs. Apparently it had leaped up and in the process the back legs became crossed and hooked on that limb, and that’s the way the little fox died — hanging there with an inability to do anything about it.

After gathering the samples, I bagged the coyote. As I said, he/she had been there a month and therefore was dried out and partly mummified, so he/she was extremely light — I weighed it when I got home: it turned out to be a mere 4 pounds. We’ll have to wait several months for the DNA testing results. I’ll give her/him a proper burial.

Death — Not By A Car

This posting was prompted by these photos I was sent of a dead coyote along a roadside in the Presidio on July 11. The caption stated that the coyote had not been hit by a car but it was presumed the culprits were the resident alpha coyotes in that territory.

© David Soren Harelson, all rights reserved [a walker added the flowers]

I was surprised, based on what I know, by this Presidio wildlife manager’s assessment. Certainly the resident alpha female has shown herself to be an aggressor, but she has never fought to the death — her targets have always fled rather than fighting it out to the end. I have never seen, or even heard of coyotes actually killing one another. They flee from vicious attacks, as did two other coyotes who were assailed by this aggressive female.

I would think this death should be investigated as a vicious dog attack and not assumed as caused by another coyote. That aggressive dog would still be out there at large and needs to be reined in. Teeth wound marks can be examined by those in the know for what kind of animal was the aggressor. If it indeed was caused by a coyote, then it actually should be stated how unlikely and rare such an occurrence would be.

I sent the photo with my assessment to my most knowledgeable friend/colleague, Walkaboutlou, who has had over 30 years of direct experience with this type of thing. He agreed. I’m including his response for its information and educational value:

“Good morning Janet,

Thank you for sharing this information and pictures with me. Your question is a valid one, especially in view of the pics.”I will say at outset what I say always with coyote: Anything is possible. However, in over 30 years of actively studying, tracking and observing coyote coast to coast, I have never seen coyote kill one another in territorial or inter-pack aggressions. I have seen evidence of some fierce fighting, but all indications were coyote flee, or stop, before death. Then, from what I could see in pics, there are the forensics of the bite. I can almost guarantee the tooth measurements don’t match a coyote tooth spacing/size etc. And the lacerations are very “sloppy”. The extent of damage indicates severe violence and power — more than any coyote gives out in fighting. My dogs have hunted for over 30 years as well. I’ve seen what they can do. I’ve also seen many species give bites/injury to my dogs. Including coyote. They can be graphic, but not in this pattern.

I’ve seen this type of bite/attack in 2 settings.
1) I’ve seen it when LGD [livestock guardian dog] catch a trespassing canine, dog, or coyote. (but even this is rather unusual.)

2) Many years ago, I helped infiltrate and break up a dog fighting ring. It was a very proud moment to have those people arrested and jailed. It also meant I saw some horrible things. Many bully type dogs, when fighting, will create damage like this. It’s rather sloppy, powerful, wide and more of a tearing, thrashing bite. Unlike coyote, but very much like a bully/pit bull type or a large, powerful and ultra aggressive dog. I would say this is the result of a very aggressive, powerfully built dog.

That’s just my assessment. Behaviorally and physically, this appears to be dog on coyote fatality. Not coyote on coyote.

© David Soren Harelson, all rights reserved [examination by a Presidio wildlife specialist]

I believe scientific research and PROOF is invaluable. But other than that, it’s based on feelings, belief and inclination. Really, we have to study any situation as a culmination and truly look at evidence. If they wanted true answers, the bites and trauma would be forensically examined. Bite/tooth marks measured. And the ample previous studies perused. Dogs and wolves routinely kill each other. We have literal evidence of that by the hundreds. It simply doesn’t exist in coyote. They can fight (and do) but they are a coursing predator. They usually avoid serious injury and prolonged fighting. I’ve seen dogs kill other dogs and coyote/foxes/cats etc…this is typical trauma for a very powerful, specific type dog (bully type, LGD (rarely) or staghound hunter) In this environment I would say a very powerful bully type latched on. It might even of been a loose dog. It had a lot of aggression. Might have even been “told” to get coyote. This isn’t a normal outcome. I’ve never seen in life, film or study, coyote on coyote fight to death.”

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