Yankee Coyotes

Interesting piece in Outdoor Life on Don Coyote in the northeastern U.S. Turns out canis latrans in the woods (and farms, and suburbs, and now even our largest cities) is a very different critter from the desert dwelling trickster (below) we know here in the Southwest.

So different that some people are questioning whether he’s a true coyote, a wolf or dog hybrid, or an entirely new species. Although he only arrived 60 years ago, the Down Easter coyote is larger, heavier and differently colored than the kin he left behind on the other side of the Mississippi. Whether he’s smarter is difficult to judge given the wildly different opportunities and challenges a coyote faces in Death Valley vs. Central Park. His conquest of the continent is a contemporary case study in the rapidity of successful evolutionary adaptation. If coyotes next develop opposable thumbs, we’re in trouble.

Mano a Coyote

Here’s a new hero in the ongoing struggle against man’s nearest competitor for North American “Apex Predator” title. A dad who takes on a coyote bare-handed to protect his son deserves something more than a Hallmark card on Father’s Day. The same coyote apparently attacked a woman and her two dogs earlier the same day, according to the news story. The dead coyote is being tested for rabies, which would be bad (and painful) news for the victims if the test proves positive but would be somewhat comforting in explaining the animal’s aggressive behavior. Note too that this all took place in a small town in New Hampshire just a few miles from the Atlantic coast — more evidence of the now continental reach of canis latrans.

Coyote warning

I’ve seen this joke before, I think from CA, but it’s still funny because it speaks to the Wile E. Coyote misconception so many people have about the critters. Also noteworthy this one is from Alaska, demonstrating the continental reach of Canis latrans.

Patriots vs. Coyotes

A couple of dissident groups on the east side of the state want to overturn several of the latest Legislative session’s more egregious missteps. One of those is a simple change in nomenclature, replacing the holiday honoring a certain infamous Italian navigator with “Indigenous People’s Day.” The other is a new law banning coyote-hunting contests. Both, in my view, were intended by our new Democratic governor and Progressive legislative majority as a poke in the eye to those rural Republicans who dominated state government for the previous eight years. Payback’s a bitch.

I’ve got nothing to say about the first initiative, other than that I’m glad we’ve moved on to “Indigenous People” as the accepted appellation for those whose forebears arrived via the Bering Land Bridge rather than from across the Atlantic several millennia later. As someone born and raised here I always felt  unfairly excluded by the appropriation of “Native American” by the people we used to call “Indians.” In a way, losing his celebratory day to “Indigenous People” is karmic payback to Chris for his confusion as to where he was and who he was meeting back in 1492.

I’m less sanguine about the Coyote Protection Act (or whatever it’s called). While it doesn’t outright prohibit killing coyotes, some of the rhetoric in the legislative debate seemed to equate predator control with stomping on kittens. Unlike some Albuquerque legislators who apparently know no more of Carnivorous Vulgaris than they learned watching Saturday morning cartoons, I do know something about coyotes and I’m learning more all the time. Here’s a good primer on the  carnivore challenging us for the North American  “Apex Predator” title.

 

Trickster 2

I don’t want to beat a dead coyote, but I  have a couple comments about this article and the folks who wrote it. I don’t know when we decided as a society that hunting coyotes was a bad thing. We have bass-fishing tournaments back East and we used to have rattlesnake roundups out here (I can’t recall when I last heard of one, but can’t recall anybody protesting them).

One of the more irritating ad hominems from the coyote-huggers is to characterize hunters as “beefy, middle-aged men in camouflage, guns in hand and dead animals no one is ever going to eat piled in trucks.” In fact, hunting coyotes is a highly skilled and challenging sport.

Also, re the “animals no one is ever going to eat” crack. If we don’t eat them, we compete with them for our food. We eat chickens and so do coyotes; we eat beef and lamb, and coyotes kill both. If Coyote Project’s biologist observed the cute and playful side of Don Coyote, a quick search of Coyote Killing Sheep will show another side of Canis latrans. Another, less sentimental way to look at that pickup full of dead coyotes is as critters who won’t be killing your neighbor’s cat or some rancher’s lambs next week.

The Coyote Project people undermine their own case against hunting by emphasizing that the coyote is under no threat of extinction. “Coyotes can withstand as much as a 70 percent yearly kill rate without suffering any decline in their total population.”

Ironically, by hunting him we are enabling the coyote to pursue his “Manifest Destiny,” according to Coyote Project. By killing off the slowest and dumbest, we’re forcing a rapid evolution of the species. We’re breeding a super-coyote that’s spreading across the continent.

Logically, Coyote Project should thus be in favor of hunting them, since it’s producing a bigger, faster, smarter coyote. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the California crusaders are just against hunting in general and see the coyote as a useful pawn in a much more ambitious campaign. NM was just one of six states that introduced nearly identical anti-hunting bills this year, all backed by the Humane Society. It’s not clear from Project Coyote’s website what its relationship is with this campaign, but I’m betting it’s kissing-cousin close.

Finally, it burns my biscuits to have condescending, virtue-signaling Marin County effetes and Santa Fe dudes lecturing me on the “morality” of rural New Mexico. Much as I would like to, I wouldn’t presume to return the favor.

The trickster

A bill now awaiting the governor’s signature banning “coyote hunts” (sponsored by my own addle-pated Sen. Mark Moores) was the subject of an opinion piece in today’s Journal, authored by a pair who title themselves “Ambassador” and “Founder and Executive Director” of a northern California outfit called “Project Coyote.”

Wile E. Coyote makes his appearance in the lede, when a biologist sights a coyote “joyously toss a sprig of sagebrush in the air with her mouth, adroitly catch it, and repeat the act every few yards.” Instead of studying “the arch-predator of our time,” the scientist is instead discovering that Wile. E. is an “intelligent, playful creature,” according to Project Coyote.

Wrong. You see “the arch-predator of our time” in the mirror every morning as you brush your teeth. Notice those sharp ones prominent on either side of your jaw? Why do you suppose God (or Darwin, if you prefer) put them there?

The intelligent and playful Homo Sapiens rules the planet and we literally fought tooth and nail for the title. For also-rans check your local natural history museum for the remains of Canis dirus and Smilodon. We’ve cleared the ring of these, but Canis latrans remains a formidable challenger. Intelligent, resilient, adaptable and increasingly aggressive, it profits us not to underestimate him.

The Apaches and other indigenous inhabitants of the land knew him well and understood him better than the folks at Project Coyote ever will.  At this weekend’s Book Fair I picked up a copy of American Indian Myths and Legends, which lists 15 stories capturing the coyote in his many different incarnations.