That Predator Stare

According to the Sunday Journal’s letters page, we’re back once again to a heated argument over coyote-killing contests. And once again I’m wondering whether we would have the same argument over killing rats. (And speaking of rats, L.A. is experiencing an epidemic of Typhus, the disease known in olden times as the killer of armies. The trajectory is the same as in the bubonic: from rats to fleas to humans. and is directly traceable to poor public hygiene.)

So am I comparing coyotes to rats? No. Coyotes are both smarter and larger — and there’s some disquieting evidence they’re getting smarter faster than we are. And while the rats have been no more than holding their own in the cities, the coyote has expanded its range over the last century from the Western Plains to the entire continental U.S.

I’ve been collecting coyote stories for a while, and will share them in a subsequent post. For now, I’d just like to ponder why anybody is more opposed to killing coyotes than killing rats.

Are coyotes somehow cuter and more lovable? I think we can thank Chuck Jones for that. His Wile E. Coyote is one of my all-time favorite comic characters. But he’s no more real than Inspector Cloiseau.

I was eye to eye with a coyote not too long ago, not a half-mile from my house. I had seated myself close to what I now surmise was the path to the den where he and his mate were raising pups. He came trotting down the trail pretty obliviously, and not until he was downwind did he abruptly stop to check me out.

We eyed each other cautiously from a distance of no more than 12 or 15 feet. I was seated and so less potentially a threat, but I had a stout walking stick between my knees, so I might be formidable in defense. I could see him calculating the odds as we stared at each other.

No one who has seen a coyote upclose could mistake it for a dog. The eyes are a dead giveaway — bright yellow and cold as ice. As one writer puts it:

“… he held still and looked at me, unblinking. It was the predator appraisal. How would I taste? Was I worth killing and eating? A pale calm yellow stare, devoid of fear.”


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