Reply to Wayne

Janet, what are your credentials that make you an expert with coyotes? I’ve seen you at the park many times following the coyote around to get pictures of it, but your explanations about this coyote sound more like subjective opinions than anything else. I am worried you are giving people misleading information. For example, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wild animal chase cars just for the “thrill” of it. Look forward to your reply.

“Gosh, you should be looking at Janet’s experience, dedication, and what she knows. You are mistakingly judging the book by its cover/title: Here, a degree counts for much less than what she knows. She is an expert even though she is self-trained. WHO would you call in who knows more about San Francisco coyotes, and particularly the behavior of this coyote?” No one else I can think of. Thank you, Janet”

Hi Wayne — [clarified & updated 7/1; and “for the record” added below]

I myself have not claimed to be an “expert” — it’s others who have proffered that honor on me: my extensive knowledge and understanding of coyotes, and what I’m doing to help them has impressed many people. Knowledge, or even expertise, doesn’t always come from a science background or from having letters after your name, it can come from dedication and lots of observation time, as it has with me: science is not the only way to know something. I might be a *self-taught* naturalist, but I do know a great deal about urban coyotes, first-hand. My question to you is, “what kind of *credentialed information* are you seeking, and from whom would you get it?” I’m happy to explain where I am coming from for you: 

*Addendum: I failed to mention when I originally wrote this that I’ve always been in communication with degreed coyote specialists, be they professionals or academics; with experienced coyote advocacy groups, wildlife rehabilitators, and/or wildlife behaviorists who I have regularly relied on to vet, approve, or give me their input on my observations and the guidelines which I’ve worked on and write about.

What I’ve learned about urban coyote behavior comes from my own daily and dedicated first-hand observations of coyotes here in San Francisco for over ten years, photographing their behaviors, and writing about them. Professors and graduate students alike have let me know that few of them have the time or opportunity for the extensive first-hand coyote observations/photo-documentation that I do. Not a whole lot has been written about the behavior of urban coyotes except when it comes to aggressive encounters, coexistence, or their reproductive behaviors to justify culling them. I offer my observations and guidance as a supplement, not as a replacement, for information coming from academic scientific studies — no *experts* seem to be doing what I’m doing, much less right here in San Francisco.

I put a lot of heart and soul into what I do, which is what I think it takes to really understand these critters — you won’t get that from science alone. This is what folks are interested in, and I do my best to get it out to folks. I recently spoke with a videographer who makes documentaries. He reminded me of this. He had been to the Presidio site and was not impressed with the reason for keeping coyotes around: “they help control the rodent population.” Where is the heart and soul in that? According to the videographer, the advertisement should have said, “we leave these coyotes alone because it is the right thing to do.” Science doesn’t like the use of words such as affection, mother, father, son, yet I use these terms to help people see the similarities that indeed do exist between ourselves and coyotes: let’s look at how much we have in common, and let’s use terms that aid in breaking down a harmful divide.

I also publish the observations and insights of others. For instance, the following bit of information and approach, coming from a place of passion, would fascinate some of my readers because they can relate to it and it’s a real-life situation:

Jennifer V: 6:04 am, our local coyote was on his usual patrol route of Woodmill Road which takes him up my front yard and around through the back, and through the back yards on my side of the street A tad later than usual this am, and he was in a bit of a hurry. But I am glad to see him back on the job – he took about a four week vacation and during that time the deer came in and ate the tops of my tomatoes.

My interest is with family life, individual behaviors, and communication, in addition to coexistence. Remember that all learning of behavior starts with observation and then seeing the patterns — it is how Jane Goodall changed our views of animal behavior: she was an unseasoned, untrained secretary when she made her seminal discoveries. Leakey on purpose chose her because she wouldn’t be biased by academic training and methods. I don’t pretend to offer anything I haven’t seen. I write about my observations and sometimes I may offer the most likely explanations based on my repeat observations of those behaviors — in conjunction with consulting the relevant literature or behaviorists I rely on: what I put out there are not *simply* my opinions. If I do give my opinions, they are weighted opinions based on many observations and I state them as such. And I also sometimes offer likely explanations — as possibilities — based on related observations from other species such as dogs if the circumstances overlap. So, I’ll do this here:

In the case of a coyote chasing cars, initially it was observed that it was associated with feeding from cars. It probably began when people offered food so that they could take her picture, or because they wanted to *help* her. The coyote went up to cars and was fed: this food-conditioned her. And the coyote even learned which feeders were most reliable because she pursued certain vehicles almost always, and others only randomly. We are no longer seeing this pattern: either of her chasing predominantly certain vehicles, nor of food being thrown out of car windows from these or other vehicles — at least in the morning when I’m there. In fact, the coyote’s time in the street during the mornings was reduced substantially by educating folks about the detriments of feeding — especially from cars and in the street — and of being friendly, and by removing the food left on the street each morning. One of these truck drivers recently stopped to tell me that he hadn’t realized the danger he was putting the coyote in — the knowledge of what could happen caused him to stop feeding her from his truck.

BUT, in the last few days chasing cars has suddenly picked up, even though most of the chasing is not in the street, but parallel to the street up on the hill. Why has this car chasing suddenly picked up? At the same time, we aren’t seeing her walking up to stopped cars the way she used to.

Most people have noticed that this coyote *appears* especially exuberant, energetic, happy and playful these last few days: it’s not because suddenly she has become stressed-out.  Fight or flight still holds, and a stressed or fearful coyote would avoid any stressful situations. When coyotes become habituated to people and dogs, they lose their fear and become more relaxed and at-ease around them. We all know that she’s lost much of her wildness as attested to by the fact that she’s comfortable out in the open, she lets dogs and people get pretty close to her, and she even approaches some of the dogs: everyone has been asked to help curtail this. Food-conditioning brought her closer in to humans initially. Now she feels comfortable being there. Hopefully, everyone will continue doing their best to keep her at a distance, no matter how enticing her play-bowing is.

How is a lone urban coyote supposed to expend her pent-up energy in a civilized world? If she were part of a family, she would be interacting a lot socially, and probably hunting and chasing down prey a good deal of the time. Being alone, in a city, she fills in her time with more creative play. According to my correspondence with behaviorist Turid Rugaas, this is normal behavior for wild animals. Turid told me that she spends time observing wild animals in order to know what are “natural” animal behaviors as opposed to some dog behaviors which are not.

Dogs have been observed chasing cars and biting at tires apparently for the fun of it — for the thrill of it — and this is in the absence of food. You see this with farm dogs, and you see it all the time in South America where stray dogs — they are semi-wild animals — run free on the streets. In my posting, I stipulate that the coyote’s chasing cars *appears* to be for fun and thrills — this was conjecture because I hadn’t seen food being offered from cars for a while. *Coyotes chasing cars* has been noted in various cities, including along Baker Beach in San Francisco, in Death Valley. In all of these animals, it is a maladapted behavior, but aren’t wild animals in the city a maladaptation situation in the first place? Hope this helps.  Janet



FOR THE RECORD (added July 1, 2017)

1) I’ve never claimed credentials which I don’t have. I *have* claimed ten years of daily first-hand, dedicated observations and lots of experience helping folks understand and coexist with coyotes. I’m a naturalist, predominantly self-taught: I do know SF coyotes first-hand, and I’ve written a lot about my observations. This is where I come from and why I’m periodically called on to help. San Francisco coyotes fall under the jurisdiction of RPD and ACC. RPD is composed, essentially, of plant people. ACC, as their name states, has a lot of work to do with the *care and control* of many animals. Although they consult a coyote advocacy advisor, they themselves do not specialize in coyotes. I’ve come in with my knowledge and my passion for coyotes to help fix a situation, and to educate and answer questions for the many folks who want to know more.

2) I am, and always have been, in discussions with professionals and academics with a focus on coyotes, including advocacy groups that specialize in coyotes, professors, students and behaviorists who I regularly rely on to vet, approve, or give me their input on my observations and the guidelines I put together and write about. Some of my efforts have been collaborations with them.

3) Many of us on the Hill have watched the coyote’s playing, which has sometimes included tail-chasing, somersaults, the zoomies, breaking twigs or pulling at a plant, tossing poop-bags, playing with a frisbee or a ball, rolling, rubbing on things. Since these observations have been made across-the-board, at various times of day and by people other than me and when I was not present, there’s no reason to consider me as the *trigger* for her playing this way.

4) Almost everyone I’ve met on the Hill and elsewhere has been super-supportive and has let me know how much they appreciate my being there. However, in any situation where I have helped out, there have always been a few individuals who challenge me or who simply don’t like my being there. None of the people who are challenging what I am doing — doing so as anonymous comments on the internet — has had the courtesy, though, to present who they *really* are. OF COURSE there is a lot of frustration and even stress behind some of the coyote’s behavior, but it appears to be the result of her overall situation: a loner wild coyote caught up in a city who many people, early on, attempted befriending and interacting with — not specifically by my activities. I came to this behavior, I didn’t cause it. You are welcome to come out and observe with me. If you want to point out any of what you think are the coyote’s specific stressful reactions to any of my own specific actions/behaviors/presence — actions which come from me and me alone — please do so. I will be glad to listen and discuss, one-on-one, in a civilized manner, with you. I just ask that you contact me beforehand, via email, with exactly who you are.

5) Again, most of what I am doing these days is docenting/explaining this coyote’s particular behavior (it takes no credentials to describe and discuss why she is habituated and why she is a loner), telling folks generally about coyotes, offering guidelines for keeping people, their dogs, and the coyote safe, and even to to share plausible explanations/theories when definite answers aren’t known, i.e. chasing cars:

The coyote chasing cars is a maladapted behavior that could be a residue behavior from when she was being fed from cars, it could be for thrills and fun due to boredom, it could be the result of any number of hormonal imbalances resulting from the wild-animal stuck in a fast-paced technological world of people and dogs with no one of her own-species to socialize with or relate to, and it could even be the result of inner-species dynamics (in fact, I’ve seen this as the primary reason for many of the coyote behaviors I’ve seen — and I say this because of my own repeated observations — I don’t think anyone else has even noted this), for instance, another, peripheral coyote whose presence or behavior is affecting her: the appearance of a new coyote, although short-lived, did coincide with an increase in her play and car chasing — or it could simply have been a coincidence.  Chasing cars is rather uncommon and we’re gathering observations and possible explanations from elsewhere to understand it.

I also continue photo-documenting the coyote’s approaching dogs, time in the street including chasing cars, time playing, time hunting, etc. My camera is my notebook, stamping all my observations with time and place and what is going on. As I record, I often speak with folks about what the coyote is doing and how she is faring: people want to know this. This coyote has been an incredible *ambassador* for opening the door to acceptance of coyotes for folks who don’t know what to think about them. Everyone can relate to a coyote playing, and seeing this enchants everyone forevermore. This is what I work towards, in addition to safety for all: for people, pets, coyote.

6) I don’t *chase* the coyote, but I do try to keep her in view — it’s the only way I can be available either to discourage feeding or friendliness and to talk about these things, or to help someone, when needed, to ward her away from their dog. These things don’t happen often, but they still do happen. This coyote is extremely habituated.

Most of my activity takes place on the street and sidewalk surrounding the hill and not on the hill itself. I aim for a distance of at least 30-50 feet. It is about the distance from the sidewalk to the edge of the hill or the width of two properties — that’s my minimum distance. If this is not what you expect, what is the distance you have in mind?

In National Parks, where coyotes are minimally habituated, it is recommended that folks stay about 75 feet away for their own safety. In cities, where coyotes and people share many of the same spaces, and where the animals are habituated, if there even is a recommendation, the recommended distance ranges from 25, 30, or 50 feet — different urban areas suggest different distances. These are simply rules of thumb. What is important is that you not approach a coyote to befriend it or feed it, and that the coyote not feel comfortable enough to come in towards you or your pet.  What I always abide by is a distance which neither disturbs or displaces wildlife: where my presence has neither interrupted their activity, nor made them flee. Dogs, however, should be kept as far away as possible and leashed in her presence.

7) Note that in most places, *hazing* or *scaring* is performed which specifically aims to make the coyote uncomfortable so that it will flee. When coyotes are uncomfortable, they flee. Hazing involves deliberate stressing of the coyote. However, as many have noted, coyotes also become *habituated* to the hazing itself. This is one reason we don’t use it. Another reason I don’t use it is that, if you were to apply these scare tactics to this coyote, it just could cause her to be in the street more, or it just could cause her to move to another location, where the same behaviors she now exhibits would simply continue, or where the coyotes in that area would drive her out. None of these options would be helping the coyote.

8) Answering Miss415: When it was suggested by this dog-walker, based on her dog-behavior readings, that *chasing a tail* could be displacement behavior (which it indeed can be sometimes in dogs), and that I should read what Turid Rugaas had to say, I took her concern seriously and sent a handful of videos — those with the most exuberant play behavior including tail-chasing — to Turid, a well-known dog-trainer/behaviorist. Turid wrote back disagreeing with the dog-walker and told me why, which I wrote up in my Yipps posting, On Being Alone — anyone is welcome to read this. A troubling exchange and disagreement ensued with the dog-walker about *who is an expert*, with the dog-walker judging the merits and demerits of everyone I had involved. I ended up disagreeing with her and this became the reason why *she* asked to be removed from the CCC group, a coexistence group she asked to join as dog-supporter several years ago. Contrary to what the dog-walker has said: I *did* look into her remarks, and I consulted the expert *she* suggested, among others. The dog-walker told me she thought the expert’s reply was “silly”. And it is the dog-walker who requested to be removed from the site — I have the emails if anyone wants to see them. I am sorry that the previously-good relationship between me and the dog-walker unraveled because of this.

The dog-walker’s additional comments are based on a video she saw where several people are watching a coyote’s activity from over 100 feet away. No camera is *in the face of* the coyote. The coyote actually looks at various of the onlookers — that’s what coyotes do — this doesn’t mean any of those people is *causing* this behavior or stressing the coyote out. In my opinion, there is a possibility that the coyote could be *showing off* a bit when people watch her, possibly *attention seeking*, but her behavior is not caused by stress due to onlookers — though her behavior could be a symptom of her boredom and loneliness.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. miss415
    Jul 06, 2017 @ 22:44:06

    I do not think anyone cares but you. I would appreciate you leaving my name out of your blog. I have severed ties and here you mention my name 9 times? Feels like harassment. Highly inappropriate.

    Reply

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