A model of adaptability, coyotes should be appreciated.
The recent article and the accompanying picture (“Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine director says he’s seen coyotes here hunt in packs”) are really misleading, anti-coyote media sensationalism (Nov. 20). Sure, coyotes occasionally hunt in packs, but it is very rare.
Coyotes are amazing beings. Loved or hated and feared by many, coyotes have defied virtually all attempts to control their cunning ways.
William Bright, in his superb collection of stories titled “A Coyote Reader,” notes, “Coyote is the trickster par excellence for the largest number of American Indian cultures.” Native peoples have portrayed coyotes as sly tricksters, thieves, gluttons, outlaws and spoilers because of their uncanny ability to survive and reproduce successfully in a wide variety of habitats, including major metropolitan areas such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City — and under harsh conditions.
Coyotes not only survive their encounters with other nonhuman predators (although many lost their lives to wolves in Yellowstone National Park after wolves were reintroduced) but also with humans who attempt to control them using incredibly brutal methods, and who also hold well-organized community hunts in which the person who kills the most coyotes wins a prize. Often these mass killings are considered to be wholesome family outings, quality family time.
What a perverted sense of family values.
I’ve studied coyotes for more than 35 years and, along with research performed by my colleagues, we’ve discovered that talking about “the” coyote is misleading.
The moment one begins making rampant generalizations, they are proven wrong. For example, in some areas, coyotes live alone; in other locations, they live with their mates; while in others, they live in groups that resemble wolf packs — extended families of different generations. In these packs, “aunts” and “uncles” help raise youngsters.
And, coyotes are sometimes territorial and sometimes not.
In a nutshell, coyotes are quintessential opportunists who defy profiling as individuals who predictably behave this way or that. That is one reason why they are so difficult to control.
Killing does not and never has worked. When a space opens where a coyote had lived, another individual simply moves in. Usually, the offending coyote is not identified. And it is ethically indefensible to wantonly go out and kill coyotes because they try to live among us arrogant, big-brained, invasive mammals who have redecorated the homes of coyotes and other animals and then conveniently decided that they have become “pests” when we don’t want them around any longer.
Wildlife Services (formerly called Animal Damage Control) ruthlessly slaughters around 90,000 coyotes each year as part of federally subsidized lethal predator control.
More than $1.6 billion has been spent on coyote management during the past 60 years in this country. Wanton killing doesn’t work because little or no attention is paid to the versatile behavior of these adaptable predators. Disease and unsanitary conditions frequently cause more livestock deaths than do coyotes or other predators. Only rarely is the “problem” coyote caught or killed, and when coyotes are killed, others take their place.
Coyotes are adaptable, intelligent, socially complex, and sentient beings who deserve respect. An extraordinary amount of time, energy, and money has gone into coyote control. Nonetheless, it hasn’t worked, lest coyotes would be controlled and the controllers could move on to other programs, hopefully less pernicious and more successful and economically worthwhile activities.
I expect that if any of us were as unsuccessful and wasteful in our jobs as Wildlife Services and animal “controllers” have been in theirs, we’d be looking elsewhere for employment.
Let’s appreciate coyotes for the amazing beings they are. They offer valuable lessons in survival. Though coyotes try our patience, they’re a model animal for learning about adaptability and success by nonhuman individuals striving to make it in a human-dominated world.
Coyotes, like Proteus the Greek who could change his form at will and avoid capture, are truly “protean predators.” They’re a success story, hapless victims of their own success.
Marc Bekoff is a former professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, an advisory board member of Project Coyote, and editor of “Coyotes: Biology, Behavior and Management.” He has studied coyotes for more than four decades.