It’s A Small World After All

A couple of days ago I visited the Presidio of San Francisco. I haven’t been going there regularly because the ecologist there is already monitoring those coyotes, but I went this time to check on the coyote I’ve labeled “Wired” — she had been radio-collared over a year ago. I heard she had moved in there and kicked out the previous family. This coyote indeed is a “toughy”. She is of special interest to me:  I had watched her wreak havoc on another coyote (who I’ve been documenting since her birth in 2015) and then pursue that coyote throughout the city for 6 months.

Second pair of coyotes in the Park

Initially I did not find the coyote I was looking for. Instead I found another pair of coyotes who looked surprisingly familiar. I’m trying to “place” their relationship among the coyotes I know. I generally can do so by watching visually for nuclear family similarities which I then hope to confirm with DNA analysis results.

I have been collecting DNA extracted from scat samples since 2008, to (among other things) help confirm my observations about relationships and movements throughout the city. The DNA analysis (Ben Sacks, Monica Serrano, et. al., UC Davis, 2020) has already shown that our present SF coyote population of 60 to 100 coyotes all came from just FOUR founding coyotes originating in Mendocino County: It appears that our SF coyote population is indeed inbred as I’ve noted and has not been augmented from the South.

Wired ran by — she’s radio-collared

When he looked at me I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was this Puff?

A couple of days later I returned to the Presidio and this time was rewarded with the appearance of Wired and her new mate! Wired hurried by with the male following close behind — she is obviously the leader of the pair. And then her mate turned around and looked at me. When you come across an old friend you haven’t seen in ages, in an odd place, your response might be, “Wow, it really is a small world!” This has happened to me with coyotes, and it just happened again! I could hardly believe my eyes! This appears to be the coyote I had labeled “Puff”. The label is based on his appearance and is used to differentiate him from his siblings when I write about them.

He was born in the spring of 2017 in a park that is not far off [I don’t state exact locations on this blog]. I’m including several photos of him (above) taken before he dispersed from his birthplace, along with photos of his mother and father on their territory there. I have DNA from these coyotes — I collect it right after it is expelled in most instances, so I know which coyote belongs to which sample. These will be used to confirm my visual/photographed observations. Puff has proved himself to be as much of a toughy as is Wired, having joined a brother to forcefully and viciously drive out a third brother from their birthplace in August of 2018, something I was able to observe. That’s how dispersal works.

It’s great to see Puff now paired up with a like-minded female (two toughies) and they appear to be the reigning alphas of their territory. It’s exciting to see these coyotes’ lives develop beyond their dispersal, something I’ve been able to do with only a handful of them so far. I don’t yet know what their relationship is with the other resident pair. They use some of the same territorial pathways, which I’m sure has significance for determining what the relationship is.

These two pairs may in fact be closely related. I say this, because otherwise, I believe, Wired and Puff would have driven out that second pair, but they have not. The previous Presidio pair along with their offspring were driven out. My continuing DNA study will confirm what their relationship is if I don’t figure it out beforehand.

So far, none of the coyotes I’ve been able to follow after their dispersal from their birthplaces has produced any offspring. Maybe Wired and Puff will produce the first 3rd generation that I’ll be able to keep tabs on! And there’s the possibility for a next generation in one other dispersed female I keep tabs on. We’ll just have to wait and see. Although I’ve watched yet another family through four generation (parents of parents of parents), there, the breeding pairs, one after the other, have remained stable and on their original territory the entire time — in fact for 13 years so far.

More recent movements within the city:

Among the four youngsters I’ve watched grow-up and then been pleasantly-surprised to see in other parks, are two that I’ve already written about, though I may not have used these labels: Scout and Hunter.

In addition to these dispersals, I’ve also seen family members travel large distances within the city to “pay a visit” or “check on” their dispersed youngsters (Maeve, Yote). I’ll soon be writing about a Dad who was just kicked out of his most recent territory and returned to where his youngsters were living. This male and his mate had dispersed from that territory (where the two youngsters remained), rather than the offspring (who did not leave/disperse) — it’s an interesting twist in things. Some family connections seem to be maintained over a great many years and over long distances.

By the way, Wired was in Puff’s birth-territory for awhile when he was still there. I don’t know if she is related to him, but there has been a long-standing association. I’ve also seen two other Presidio coyotes at Puff’s birth-territory. I wonder what the special tie is between these two family groups.


Endnotes: It’s very satisfying to have one’s visual observations confirmed by hard data (DNA). “Science” tends to accept only hard data, not visual data, though I have my photographs which indeed show connections. Incidentally, I do not use gadgets such as radio-collars or tags, which I think are harmful. I recognize coyote facially and can follow them that way, using sequences of photos to study any details. Except in a few instances, the coyotes I document are all labeled based on their appearance so I can readily know who they are.

More Infection From Tagging

These photos were taken in the Presidio of San Francisco on February 19th by EEHelton and posted in iNaturalist. The Presidio is the only place in San Francisco where tagging is done. This is an obvious example of an infected ear caused by tags. I know this female coyote who was perfectly fine only a month before these photos were taken — an infection can occur long after the tags are initially inserted. Human intervention of any kind causes the greatest harm to these animals. Human desire for information should never trump the the well-being of the animals themselves. Please, let’s leave the animals alone. What we want to know can be gleaned from simple observations.

Detrimental Effects of Radio Collars

The once happy-go-lucky coyote is now wounded 

I cried when I next saw the coyote pictured above. She had more wounds and was thin and frail looking. Only a month ago she was so infectiously happy — she brought joy to all who observed her. This is the coyote who was displaced from her own territory by another coyote a month ago, on February 5th. She returned several times, but the newcomer’s presence drove her away each time. Her appearance and demeanor reflect her story: The fur around her entire neck has been pulled and torn — it’s damp from oozing. Through the fur you can see the injuries on her neck front, with a flap of skin hanging down. On the side of her neck is another deep gash. Her legs are covered with wounds. Her face, as you can see here, has a number of lacerations.

Everyone who knows this gal knows her upbeat personality. She’s good-willed towards everyone: people and dogs. She has always been sprightly and playful, even as a loner, and when a male arrived she was welcoming, loving and playful with him — incredibly so, to the joy and amazement of all onlookers. Then the intruder came in, displaced her, and, in short, put a crimp in everything she had going for her. Nature is nature, and we have to accept that: that coyotes have their own internal affairs to work out. BUT here there was human involvement which needs to be examined.

About the Intruder: We know the intruder had been wandering about for the last little while because she ended up in the Presidio where she was nabbed and radio-collared on January 3rd, even though she was not an inhabitant of that park. At the time she was collared, she was deemed 2+ years of age. And that’s all you need to know about her to understand this story.

Let’s talk about the radio-collar on that intruder. First note that, although there are wounds on our coyote’s legs, face and head, the majority of deep wounds sustained by her are on and around her neck. That’s one of the places where coyotes attack. So you can be sure that’s where our coyote, too, tried attacking her opponent. But the intruder/opponent had been outfitted with armor: the large impenetrable radio-collar which interfered with the bites to those places — bites meant to defend her territory — that our coyote tried to inflict. The intruder was thus protected and came to the fight with a huge advantage. What does this say about radio-collaring? It says that this human-made gadget — and humans are very fond of their “gadgets” — which a human forcibly attaches to animals for our human convenience, is changing the outcome of lives — it’s interfering where we should not be interfering. Is “science” more important than the animals being studied? The scientists using the collars of course aren’t going to say anything negative about them. But other people have been writing about this:

“Being chased [. . . or trapped, then wrestled to the ground], then waking up tagged or collared, is by no means voluntary on the part of wildlife and has not only physical concequences, but traumatic psychological effects on the victim. For instance, a wild wolves often show symptoms of PTSD up to a year after being helicopter darted and collared. Whales become reluctant to approach whale watching boats when “researchers” move in and begin “tagging” them. Etc. http://goodnature.nathab.com/animal-privacy-rights-monitoring-wildlife-out-of-existence/

Ear-tags and radio-collars are used in the Presidio, a federal park in the NW corner of San Francisco. We should be concerned about these gadgets we are attaching to animals for our benefit, because they certainly are not helping the animals. In the first place, capturing the animal for this purpose is a terrifying experience for every animal. Coyotes are wary of humans and won’t let anyone get close to them. For them, capturing them must be a “leading to death” experience.

The ear tags: Two 1″ plastic disks are placed on the fur on the inner and outer side of the ear, so this includes the side where sound waves enter the ear. No one is going to tell me that this doesn’t alter sounds, especially for ears as sensitive as a coyote’s. Sound is normally helped by passing over their natural fur, not a piece of plastic. That’s just the sound-wave angle. More on animal hearing.

The plastic hardware itself can be irritating and can also pick up and harbor bugs, especially ticks — one of the insects that plague coyotes the most as I’ve written about — and neither the coyote, nor her mate who often helps with the grooming, has any way to reach under those tags to get them off. Infections can be caused by the piercing of the ear, just as they do in human piercings, except that coyotes aren’t monitored for this. A friend of mine saw a coyote with an infected ear caused by a tag.

In addition, I’ve been told by several behaviorists that animals may shun/reject other animals who are strangely marked (or deformed). I wonder if ear-tags and collars would have this effect?

The collars. These things are not only heavy, they are bulky and cumbersome. I’ve seen coyotes attempt to shake off a collar, either because of it’s cumbersome size and weight around their necks, or because of the irritations caused by the collar itself: abrasions, grit, bugs. These are not domestic animals, so much more gets lodged behind their collars than what we see on our dogs. Ticks love to hide on dog ears and under dog collars — the same would be true for coyotes.

Attempting to shake off the collar

But, FOREMOST, a collar can actually change the outcome of coyotes’ lives, for instance, the outcome of a territorial dispute, which is what was involved here. I’ve seen plenty of territorial disputes, but inevitably, it’s the territorial owner who is able to drive out the intruder, not the other way around unless the owners have become old and feeble. Our coyote was in the prime of life, four years old. She could/should easily have driven the intruder away. She herself was wounded severely ON THE NECK, where coyotes intentionally inflict damage. If our coyote tried this tactic on the other coyote, which I’m sure she did, she got a mouth full of hard radio and hard collar. The radio-collar provided armor and a huge advantage to the intruder. The intruder was left unscathed by all appearances. When our coyote returned again to wrestle back her turf, she was met with the same disadvantaged circumstances, and more wounds to herself.

Large plastic ear-tags and a bulky radio contraption shackled to her neck

Radio collars might be deemed a necessary evil for particular studies — their use should be extremely limited. But they are not needed for “management”, which is what they are purportedly being used for in the Presidio. “Management” requires one thing alone: educating the public to walk away from coyotes and keep their dogs away from them. Coyotes naturally avoid humans unless they are being fed or befriended. Signs, literature, talks are what is needed. Whether or not coyotes are radio-collared, the public will still need to KNOW what to do if they encounter a coyote: they need to walk away from a coyote. Coyotes can move about quickly, so no map is going to show where coyotes are at any particular time. When dens have been discovered and cordoned off to protect coyotes and dogs from each other, it has more often than not been done after the den was inadvertently discovered by the public. Additional management can be added on a case-to-case basis in the few instances when it is necessary.

By the way, coyotes will not over-populate any given area — this is because they self-regulate their population through their territorial imperatives. So collars are not needed for population management. The collars are used only to track movements. Since we now know coyotes general movements within the Presidio, and even out of the Presidio to Los Gatos, why are we continuing to collar them?

See also: For sage grouse, science can be fatal.


Addendum from a comment I made on FBI concur that most “scientists” are out to help the animals, even though I know multiple instances of where the “information” is considered more important than the animal. As I said above, learning from a minimal amount of collaring could be useful.

But where there are other means, collaring shouldn’t be done because of collateral effects. A researcher’s “good intentions” aren’t enough. Good intentions are often harmful: for instance, feeding wildlife. Collaring is not a benign thing. There are too many things we DON’T know about these animals to be shackling them with our gadgets unless absolutely necessary, and even then it should be minimally. Did you read the article on hearing linked above? There are a lot of things about animals that humans simply don’t have any comprehension about, and that’s because we ourselves are limited by our five senses, and we tend to use ourselves as the gold standard — until we’re surprised, for instance, that elephants can hear clouds. Also, radio telemetry does not reveal their interpersonal behaviors. What I observed in this posting probably goes on a lot — it wasn’t just a one-time fluke that I just happened to see — but few scientists actually spend huge amounts of time watching coyote behavior, which is what it takes: they like their instruments, their data, and crunching numbers.

This article was written to let all those folks with good intentions know that they may be creating more harm than they can imagine, specifically with radio-collars. So please use them sparingly, and only if you really have to.


Another Addendum: I found these photos on iNaturalist taken in the Presidio on February 19th by EEHelton. Here is an obvious example of an infected ear caused by tags. This female coyote was perfectly fine only a month before these photos were taken.

Click on the images to enlarge and scroll through them.