Vida Eliminated — with input by Walkaboutlou

[The first part of this is re-posted from my Instagram account, and then I explore a coyote territorial “takeover” scenario with input from Walkaboutlou].

Vida was a three-year-old first-time mom who suddenly went missing on July 25th, and we’ve not seen her again. She was a tiny and easy-going coyote who minded her own business and stayed away from people and dogs in her park. She was an absolutely ideal neighbor.

She had two four-month old pups whom she would not have just left. No, something happened — but what? There have been no DOA coyotes picked up by Animal Care and Control since then, so she doesn’t appear to have been hit by a car. The one hint as to what might have happened is the incredibly intense distressed coyote vocalizations every night around midnight close to her denning area over the period when she went missing, the kind I’ve been hearing, not after a simple chase by a dog, but after a much more intense and relentless hot pursuit by a powerful dog bent on “getting the coyote”, as I’ve recently posted.

I can’t help but think of the possibility that her disappearance might have been due to such foul play. The disturbing vocalizations went on intensely for many nights and pointed to violent upheaval of some type. I know it sounds far fetched — and this would be a worst-case scenario — but I wouldn’t put her disappearance past someone with a hunting dog who hates coyotes — maybe even brought into the city by a seriously disgruntled park-going individual. More than once I’ve heard several individuals say they were going to shoot the coyotes — take the law into their own hands because they didn’t like the law — the law didn’t suit them. The law, BTW, here in San Francisco, is that you can’t harm or harass wildlife.

There are a number of humans who are outraged and outspokenly livid that trails were closed by the Park Department this denning season, having been closed off to keep both dogs and coyotes out of each other’s way and to curtail conflict. In their minds, “whole sections of parks were turned over to the coyotes.” The people who think this way are not many, but they sure are vocal, loud, and self-righteous about it. They are individuals who feel THEY have a handle on how things “should be” and are unable to accept anything different — anything inconvenient to them. I want to point out to them that until the 1920s, Bald Eagles were considered vermin and shot on sight for hunting small animals and as a dire threat to children — they were one of those animals that “shouldn’t be here”.

I have seen large dogs sicced on coyotes by their owners in other SF parks — I was there and stopped it. What I do know is that Vida is gone and there were intensely distressed vocalizations tied into her disappearance, and then another female suddenly appeared and filled her niche. Fortunately, last I saw, Dad was still regurgitating food for the pups, picked up by a field-camera, so they are continuing to be taken care of. Vida has never reappeared.

As I said, I don’t have absolute proof that dogs were involved, I’m just speculating, as a possible scenario, based on my observations of the overall situation and all the input I’ve received. On the face of it, that’s the most likely scenario of what happened. But I want to interject another script or storyline possibility, no matter how unlikely, to show the breadth and depth of coyote behavior more than anything else.

A full month after Vida disappeared, my field camera in the area captured a pummeling fight between two female coyotes. The aggressive victor of the fight turned out to be none other than Libe, the new alpha female in the territory — the one who replaced Vida. I had no trouble identifying her. As I watched the video clip a thought passed through my head: What IF the smaller coyote had been Vida? This potentiality came to mind because the smaller, losing coyote had a similar size and body configuration as Vida. In spite of that, in Vida’s case, there appear to be too many negating factors: Vida has always been easy for me to identify, but I was unable to in the clip; the fight happened a full month after Vida stopped appearing, whereas if she had been forcefully driven away she would have tried repeatedly to reclaim her territory and family, but she didn’t — coyotes are intensely tied to their families; and she would have been more the aggressor rather than simply putting up a defense as might a dispersing coyote, as seen in the video — in the video it’s Libe who is doing all the pummeling.

So, more as a point of interest, I want it to be known that “takeover” situations — i.e. “stealing” — though exceptionally rare when there are pups, appear to be remotely possible.

Duking it out

I asked my friend, Walkaboutlou, who has revealed his deep understanding of coyotes from years of first-hand interest and observations, if he had ever heard of, or thought it possible, that an outsider single female could come in and fight and oust a mother with four-month-old pups from her territory? Could this happen? Do coyotes “steal” each other’s families? Ever? Commonly? I’ve never seen it. I myself had seen single coyotes ousted from territories, but in those cases, there were no pups and there was no mate, and I’ve seen the territories of older coyotes who have lost their mates taken over forcefully by a more robust and younger coyote pair.


Hi Janet,

I’m not a canine behaviorist professional in domestic or wild canids. However I always say …

Almost anything is possible.

I’ve seen seemingly stable and generational coyote packs that all have degree of relatedness and various affiliations too. Most areas are extremely fluid because coyote typically on average live rather fast lives. If you only have a few years to live, hold a place and have some pups hopefully … you live intense.

The ranching family I know who has known their coyote packs decades has mentioned take overs or changes. Sometimes a male or female is “driven” out. And their mate leaves with them. 

Other times … it seems some mates are determined to stay in territory, and join the victor. Much like cats.  The territory holds them more than the bond. 

I think any outcome or dynamic is possible. The contact calls and stress vocalizations would happen with dog aggression, or coyote take over. Its upheaval. 

I also know some coyote depart like ghost never to be seen again if they lose territory. And others are very stubborn to relinquish old stomping grounds.

However … the intensity of take over merits … usually … short term stuff. It’s usually just so stressful to both hunt and survive the usual … AND wage battles for turf it’s usually too much to maintain any length of time.

That being said … a Mother of pups and with mate is rarely usurped so early. It would be very interesting to know the history of challenger and her relationship with the current male. Some coyote …(like some people) don’t care about property rights, laws … or bonds. They see a place. A territory. A pack. And say…MINE. Take it or leave it. I’m coming in. You are leaving or submitting. Its mine.

It seems harsh. But many coyote feel impelled to take actions asap especially in areas where territory isnt easy to find.

I think there are outsider females and males that absolutely will take over everything. They may drive out the whole family. Or just the same sex target. (Mother, Daughters)

Fascinating stuff. 
Lou


BTW, the new female, Libe, two years old I would say, had been living in an adjacent territory as a loner for at least a year. That adjacent territory was not ideal in that it was entirely on the urban residential grid, composed of 25×100 foot lots with houses and apartments, and little open space in addition to small backyards, whereas Vida’s territory had it all: neighborhoods to trek through, a vast wild open space, a mate, pups. Libe trekked through her urban territory daily, usually at night, dawn or dusk, and kept away from people and dogs but allowed herself to be seen without any fear. I had seen her trekking right up to the periphery of Vida’s territory within a month of Vida’s disappearance, and may have been entering and assessing the situation. The only real interactive “behavior” of hers that I’ve ever seen is that fight in the field camera where she showed her mettle: she was pretty darn spunky and in control there. But recently she also has shown a spunky defiance towards dogs, challengingly occupying their play-space for short spells.

So, what I’m saying here is that Vida was most likely brutally eliminated/killed by a dog. BUT, almost anything is possible in the coyote world, as stated by Lou, including for an outsider coyote to come in and steal — lock, stock and barrel — what belonged to another coyote. Another circumstance diminishing that latter possibility here is that Vida and her mate were extremely supportive, playful, and affectionate with each other. It seems he would have defended her. But maybe not?

The Gypsy Coyotes Continue Their Peregrinations

Some coyote individuals compromise their reclusiveness and wariness when food is around: they are opportunists after all, and what comes easy they’ll latch onto. However, pups are not something they are willing to compromise for: pups are coyotes’ biggest kept secret.

Two years ago, this coyote pair raised pups here in one of SF’s smaller parks. The coyotes had been tamed by feeders who not only fed them, but befriended them to the degree that the coyotes would wait around at the park entrance for handouts, as close as 5 feet or even less from people and their mostly leashed dogs. But unleashed dogs went chasing after the coyotes on a regular basis, making the coyotes very uncomfortable. The pups of course were kept totally secret, but I suppose dogs and people came close enough, often enough, to the secret den so that Mom decided she didn’t want to repeat the stressful experience.

The pair played like youngsters at dusk, while the youngsters remained secretly hidden from dogs and people — this was in 2017, when few folks saw or knew about any pups in the area. Notwithstanding, the adults were pursued by dogs regularly.

So last year these parents left that park for the duration of the pupping season, in spite of the plentiful supply of food there. They ended up raising their family at another, even smaller, but much more secluded location, where there were fewer dogs and fewer intrusive people. The problem with the new location was that it began being hugely developed and cleared for building purposes, and its diminished natural area became too small to accommodate the family.

So at about the age of six months, the youngsters began navigating back and forth, at night, between this smaller location and the “feeding/dog” park, making it obvious that this family claimed both areas — about a mile apart. Theirs was what is known as a “fragmented” territory.

But there at the old park, the number of incidents of unleashed dogs chasing and attacking coyotes grew, to the point of leaving coyote adults and pups with leg injuries. Some people felt entitled to not leash their dogs and went so far as to claim that the coyotes were playing with their dogs — that the coyotes “liked” being chased by dogs. In addition to the menacing dogs, other coyotes began appearing at that park in the middle of the night, so by the end of the year, we suddenly began to hear territorial fights between the resident coyotes and interloper coyotes at night. The territory would obviously not do as a pupping area for next year’s litter.

Last year’s litter were kept secret at first

This was the situation when, again, the coyotes picked up and left in January of this year.

Their exit, as in the previous year, was orchestrated by Mom. For months before their departure, she was the one who went out each evening, traveling far and wide, mostly alone, but sometimes with her mate, surveying for a more suitable location for her next litter. When she found the right spot, she returned to gather her mate, and with one yearling in tow, off the trio went, traveling through some of the same open spaces they had been through the year before — spending about two weeks at several of these — before packing off to the next temporary 2-week place.

The one yearling they brought with them.

Finally, they settled down, a full 5 miles from their previous two pupping haunts, but still within the City of San Francisco. This is where it appears they will stay to have their pups this year, due in only a few weeks. Human fast-food toss-offs can be found even in this new location, but best of all: dogs are not an issue here since there aren’t any, and humans give them the respected space they need to live more natural lives. It’s not as easy as you might have imagined being an urban coyote.

The expectant parents, Dad grooms Mom

Territorial Fighting Can Be Vicious

I cried when I came across this fellow yesterday. Although I know him well, he was almost unrecognizable due to the lacerations on both sides of his snout and the resulting swelling. This is part and parcel of being an alpha male coyote: they must defend their territories and families when challenged.

Territorial fights between coyotes can be vicious. I have observed  fights such as the one below on numerous occasions in San Francisco, and around this time of year. Notice these two latching onto each other’s snouts without letting go.

Life is hard enough for coyotes without us making it harder for them. Their lives are fabulously rich with family interactions, but also fabulously tough at times. Let’s give them a break whenever we can! [Also see posting on injured father].

[More graphic photos, for those who aren’t squeamish, can be found here:   http://www.urbanwildness.com/urbanwildness.com/Tattle-Tails/Pages/Injury.html].

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