When we're home here in Las Vegas, our daily routine starts with a pre-dawn walk around the golf course. That works well for us – we don't get in the way of the golfers that early in the morning and we often get to see some of our urban wildlife. We usually spot many of the local birds, a number of migratory birds, and the occasional hawk or falcon.
When we first started doing this a couple of years ago, we'd also occasionally see a coyote or two. Then we started seeing a couple with pups. Now, we rarely go a day without seeing at least one, if not five or six coyotes during the course of our walk. One day as we were returning home, we actually saw one leave our yard, cross the street to our neighbor's yard, then trot past us, not 50 feet away. I swear he winked and smiled as he loped past.
On the other hand, we used to see literally hundreds of rabbits each day - we once counted 78 rabbits on the tee and fairway of the 3rd hole alone. Now, while there are still a lot of them, their numbers have reduced significantly. I'd estimate we see something like 30-40 rabbits in total during our walks, and it's not hard to figure out why the coyotes are doing so well and look so healthy.
Coyotes have fascinated me for as long as I can remember, and in our travels, we came across a book on the subject which seemed like one worth reading - Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History. It must be a popular read, because when I tried to borrow the Kindle version from our local library, I was sixth on the waiting list. When I was finally able to download it, I found that the wait was well worth it. The book was not only well researched, but well written. It covered much of the lore of the coyote, from the Native American tales and legends to world's most famous coyote, Wile E.
Beyond the lore and the legends, however, the book was enlightening in a number of other ways. Coyotes, it seems, are not only common in Las Vegas, but have now colonized every major city in the U.S. - Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, St. Louis, Miami... Coyote sightings in New York City used to be newsworthy, but not so much anymore. It's estimated that there are many more than 2,000 in Chicago, “with almost everyone in Chicago going to bed at night with a coyote no more than a mile away”.
What makes this even more amazing is that for the past 100+ years, the government officials of the U.S. and many states have waged an intense battle against the coyote, spending many millions in an effort to eliminate the entire species. Coyotes were shot, trapped and poisoned. Millions more dollars were spent inventing new poisons and poison delivery systems for the sole purpose of killing coyotes and wolves. Not thousands, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands, but millions of coyotes were killed – probably more than 7-8 million, in fact.
The result? Every last grey wolf, Mexican wolf and red wolf in the U.S. was eliminated. The collateral damage to other predatory animals was intense as well – bald eagles were put on the endangered species list and California condors and the black footed ferret were driven almost to extinction. Meanwhile, despite this intense effort at eliminating them, the coyote continued to thrive.
Coyotes, it seems, are not only wily, they're also smart and highly adaptive. If left alone, their numbers reach an equilibrium point, and the litter sizes drop to 2-3 pups – just enough to maintain sustainable numbers. If the number of coyotes in a given area starts dropping, the litter sizes increase to as much as 19 pups! That must be one tired mom.
Coyotes do suffer from bad press, however. In 2011 two Canadian researchers analyzed 453 newspaper articles describing interactions between people and urban coyotes. Almost all the articles were heavily biased, describing coyotes as a plague, an infestation, kidnappers(?), robbers and criminals. Almost half the articles discussed “attacks” on people, even though only three people a year were actually bitten by coyotes in Canada, versus the 300,000 dog bites reported annually.
While coyotes are by nature, shy and timid of humans, there is evidence that they are becoming less so in urban areas. In southern California, for example, there were 41 reported attacks on humans over the 10 year period 1988 to 1997 compared to the 48 verified attacks for the six year period 1998 to 2003. Of these 89 attacks, only 56 were incidents in which a human was injured, but it's still worth taking note of. Many wildlife experts believe much of the cause is residents feeding the the coyotes, usually unintentionally or due to ignorance. Coyotes, being the smart critters they are, learn to come to urban homes for food, with very unfortunate consequences.
The coyotes we see do not seem the least bit aggressive towards us – instead, they are very wary of our presence. If we make the slightest aggressive move towards them, like wave our arms or take a quick step in their direction, they immediately trot away from us. Still, I wonder if they are saying to each other: “Does that old skinny guy look a little weak to you? Does it look like he's limping a little today? We might want to keep an eye on him and see if he drops back.”
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