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Building a Better Coyote

September 1, 2010

Lately the lonesome sound of a coyote howling has been heard in some unlikely places. The “trickster”, as the Native Americans called coyotes, is the ultimate survivor and thrives by adapting. A coyote’s diet can best be described as “whatever is available”. In a wilderness setting, the coyote dines on small mammals such as mice, squirrels and rabbits as well as fruit, berries and nuts. If humans begin farming his habitat, he happily switches to watermelons, chickens and the rats attracted to your barn. If the suburbs encroach, then any free-roaming house cat and whatever is in can is your garbage can is on the menu. This adaptability has allowed coyotes to spread to every state in the union except Hawaii and I figure it’s only a matter of time until a pair hops a boat. They are seen from trackless wilderness in the west to New York City’s Central Park.

Because of a coyote’s ability to take prey up to and including deer and small livestock, people have been in conflict with coyotes for hundreds of years. Since 2000, one Federal Agency, the euphemistically named Wildlife Services, has killed over 800,000 coyotes. They have been trapped, poisoned, shot, snared, hunted down with dogs, killed by baited cyanide “coyote getters”, shotgunned from aircraft and gassed. In 1971 over four hundred thousand poisoned baits were distributed in Texas alone. The attitude toward Coyotes was graphically demonstrated in a 1942-43 Annual Report of the Alaska Game Commission in which Coyotes are referred to as “obnoxious animals.” In most states Coyotes are classified as “varmints” and routinely shot on sight year-round. Some states have even posted a bounty on coyotes.

But coyotes have persevered. They have the ability to adjust their breeding to match the food availability and overcrowding. In good times a pair will have five to seven pups with the previous year’s pups helping to raise the large brood. For generations we have been killing the slow learners and naive and encouraging the most suspicious and adaptable to reproduce. We have selectively bred a super-coyote. They will probably outlive us all. I love to hear the yips and howls of a pack of coyotes -what sounds like twenty is probably two. I still think it is the quintessential sound of the west, but really it’s just a survivor getting by as best they can.

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