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    Pets & Their People / Perspective

    The Coyote: Truths & Myths

    by C. Miriam Yarden, B.Sc., MS
    Contributing Editor,

    Ms. Yarden is a practicing animal behavior specialist (Aurora Animal Behaviour) with 35 years of experience in the field and is a published author on the subject. Her "Pets & Their People/Perspective" appears exclusively on

    [Introductory note: As previously reported by, efforts are underway in some parts of southern California to trap and kill coyotes. Miriam Yarden offers her perspective.]

    (Sept. 8, 2008) -- His zoological name is Canis Latrans. European man, having wrested the wilderness from the much kinder and more sensible care of nature named him Prairie Wolf.
    File photo: CA Dept. of Fish & Game

    The rightful owner of the wilderness, the only true native of this continent whom the white man in is ignorance named "Indian," called this small and incredibly intelligent canid, God's Dog.

    Legend and lore, intertwined with his belief and ritual, deals with the little animal not only kindly but also humorously: Little Brother, The Trickster, Favorite of the Great Spirit.

    Not so the European immigrant to this part of the world. His medieval philosophy which he brought from the old world was simple : if you don't know it, fear it and if you fear it, destroy it.

    This philosophy alone may not have played the indescribable havoc with nature that it has, but coupled with his the belief that God gave man (especially the white man) total control of this world and everything in it to do with as he pleased, if something was in the white man's way, he knew he had the "God-given" right to get rid of it.

    As a result of this arrogance, the American settler attempted to destroy and exterminate anything and everything he did not understand, had no immediate use for, feared, or managed to get in his way, be it animal, vegetable or mineral. Too often he succeeded.

    The white man eradicated such species as the passenger pigeon, the buffalo, the wolf (to list only a few) and almost managed to kill off the Indian. The one animal he could not exterminate - not from lack of trying - is the Canis Latrans, the Prairie Wolf, God's Dog - or as commonly known - the Coyote.

    "Coyote" is derived from a godly name. The Aztecs knew the little wild dog by the name of "Coyotl". It was the Spanish conquerors who distorted the name to kah-yo-tee. This was not difficult for the conquistadores - they distorted many things with great ease...As different species were exterminated by the settlers, nature became considerably un-balanced. They refused to accept that this could happen ("God will provide"), yet even in biblical times, the farmer was well aware of sensible and balanced care for the land as well as it's creatures, domestic or wild.

    As the buffalo disappeared, so did the vast nations of native Americans whose lives were inextricably tied to this great beast. As the wolf was trapped, shot, poisoned and wiped out by any nefarious means that man could dream up, herds of ungulates became large, weak, sickly and naturally, found themselves starving for lack of natural population control which the wolf provided efficiently, sensibly and above all, without tampering with the gene pool. In other words, wolves did not hunt for trophy - they hunted for food and took only the old, the weak, the lame and the very young.

    Thus it was that when the wolf was gone, man turned to the next wild canid, which in his ignorance, he named Prairie Wolf. The Canis Latrans is not a wolf (wolf being Lupus). However, for lack of a better patsy, a better victim, a better way to get his government to pay him for work he did not have to do, he declared that the coyote was as dangerous and vicious a predator as the wolf (which of course, the wolf wasn't).

    Thus, it became the manly thing to hunt these little wild dogs as ruthlessly and cruelly as only man can. The government paid him a bounty for the fun he had killing the little animal.

    To justify his hatred of the coyote (as he needed justification of his relentless war on the wolf) he also attributed characteristics to this animal which he never had (the wolf never had the viciousness attributed to him by man either). Man insisted that the coyote is a predator of large ungulates such as deer, moose, elk, and above all, his own domestic animals, cattle, sheep, fowl, etc.

    All unforgivable sins, since the loss of deer, moose and elk cuts into the manly sport-hunter's fun and the domestic animal loss cuts into the rancher's profit. And therein lies the bone of contention!

    Let us look at this little animal, this God's Dog and see what he is like, what he lives on, how he survives and whether he is indeed the menace that the settler has declared him to be and succeeded in reinforcing this allegation with money and expert publicity.

    He is smaller than a wolf, weighing between 25 to 30 pounds. He is either gray, gold, or tawny brown and his tail often has a black tip. The tail is round and bushy in a healthy coyote. He has a peculiar vocal talent of yelps, howls and coughlike barks which can make as few as two or three animals sound like a pack of almost ten.

    The coyote knows that there is safety in numbers and developed this ability to fool his foes. In the case of his worst enemy, this served to convince man that there were "packs of varmints out thar."

    The coyote lives successfully in areas ranging from the lowest desert all the way to the highest mountain ranges and can subsist on almost any kind of food. He is happy with small rodents and insects, fruit and carrion, vegetation and man's garbage.

    He mates for life and maintains a territory which he and his mate stake out by scenting. Within this territory there may be more than one den where surplus food is cached if there is any, and in such a den the kits will be born at the appropriate time. The coyote may dig such a den for himself and his mate or utilize a natural cave or indentation if he finds one. Both male and female will do their best to defend their marked territory.

    The little coyote is perhaps the most friendless of creatures. His main and worst enemy is civilization. Housing developments, factories, farms and industrial complexes rob him of his space. His natural food supply is affected and he has two choices: adapt or move. God's Dog has done both with equal success - he survived because he is one of the most adaptive creatures on the face of the earth.

    As humans continued to encroach on the coyote's territory, he moved. When man caught up with him, he moved again. With the exception of those coyotes that are desert dwellers, the animal now has nowhere to go. As a result he has become more and more accustomed to the sight and sound of man and he became half-wild, half-tame.

    He does not welcome the company of man but he certainly is not as fearful and timid as he used to be. Around the city, he can be seen most often in the hills at midday and sometimes no amount of shouting and threats will intimidate him.

    Why is he so daring and shows himself so bravely in the light of day? A large part of the blame must go to such humane individuals whose misguided intentions prompts them to feed wild animals of any kind, including the coyote.

    While their kindness is not in doubt, they created a dependence by the coyote on humans and thus, will not be averse to pet food left in backyards, livestock feed and even small pets such as cats and small dogs. Life became easy, food was there for the taking rather than for the hunting.

    By nature, the coyote prefers to live in the wild and much prefers his diet of small rodents, insects and fruit. Thus he will be forced to move again, because periodically, man declares a relentless war on the creature, indulges in an orgy of hunting and bloodlust and feels his job "well done".

    The facts are altogether different. It is not possible to destroy the coyote population and it becomes therefore imperative that man finds a way to coexist with the coyote so that problems created by such proximity are reduced and through understanding and common sense, hopefully eliminated.

    If you live in "coyote country" or suburbs where coyotes have taken up residence, there are a few simple ways in which you can protect your home, pets and children.

    Unless cornered, a coyote will not attack a human (which is more than can be said for the human!). Nevertheless, small children and small pets should be in the yard only under the watchful eye of an adult at all times. Cats and small dogs should be kept indoors both day and night unless accompanied by an adult and kept on a leash at all times.

    Large dogs must be brought in for the night because if your bitch is in heat, coyotes will jump the fence to mate. If a female coyote is in heat, your male will also scale the fence to get to her, no matter how well-behaved and how well trained he may be. Spaying and neutering your pets will eliminate most of this aspect of the problem, but even so, any pet, regardless of size should be indoors at night because territorial disputes can arise and such disputes between coyotes and domestic dogs is not desirable.

    NOTE: of ALL wild animals, the coyote has the lowest incidence of rabies. In fact, in 1984 there were 5 rabid cows in the state of California and not a single rabid coyote. Neither is the coyote a rabies-carrier like the skunk, squirrel or possibly the raccoon.

    Make it a habit to feed your pets indoors. Make sure your trash cans are tightly covered.

    DO NOT store or keep food or pet food outside. Keep them in a closed garage or storage building.

    Above all DO NOT feed coyotes or any other wild animals!

    If you believe that there are coyotes invading your neighborhood, investigate well to make sure that it is not someone's pet dog, or even a dog-pack on the loose. Not everyone can tell the difference between a coyote and a similar breed dog. If you believe that it is indeed, a dog or dog pack, call your local animal control.

    If however, you have reason to believe that the animal is a coyote, then call the LA County Agricultural Commission for help to trap and relocate the animal.


    The coyote is as adaptable and indestructible as he is for several reasons. More than any other wild animal, his reproductive behavior is admirably engineered to correlate with his resources and available space. Why other animals have not succeeded as well is another subject; let us look at a few.

    The magnificent wolf is a pack-animal. The pack's health, nutrition and reproduction totally interrelate to available food and space. So far, the wolf is similar to the coyote. The big difference was that within the wolf-pack, only the Alpha-pair is allowed to mate in order to keep the number of the pack in balance.

    The mountain lion or puma is a solitary animal, living and hunting alone. This beautiful cat is also a very shy and a non-prolific breeder. The average size of a litter is two cubs who remain with their mother for at least 2 years during which time she will not mate again.

    Not so the coyote, who is not a pack- but rather a family-animal. A pair of parents will live and travel with their offspring and only rarely will they team with "relatives" for the purpose of hunting or feeding, (although they prefer the family life, given the choice).

    Once the kits leave the family and strike out on their own, the parents will mate and have offspring again. Coyote kits mature much faster that puma kittens.

    It is here that the coyote differs from the others. The more he is hunted, killed and exterminated, the more territory and resources become available and surprisingly, the coyote's litter increases in size. Whereas if the coyote is left alone to exist without interference by man, the size of the litter is normally about 3.5-4.0 kits. With man's interference, the litters consist of about 6.0-7.8 kits.

    This is not a matter of isolated pairs but overwhelming data of long observation. What is totally astonishing is that man in his blind idiocy and hatred, refuses to face the facts and contributes to the increase in coyote population himself!

    How are coyotes hunted by man? The ones that are shot outright are the lucky ones. The ones that are "denned" suffer the kind of agonies only man can inflict. "Denning" is done by either pouring gasoline into dens where young kits are nursing and setting them on fire, burning them alive, or inserting a long, twisted wire into the den and impaling the kits on it, who die slowly and in horrible pain.

    The most favored and most self-defeating for man is poisoning the coyote with baited carcasses, usually using cyanide or strychnine. This method is also most dangerous because while the coyote has learned by-and-large to avoid baited meat, other animals have not and the death rate of eagles, raccoons, domestic pets and even children is high, inexcusable and unnecessary.

    Does the coyote attack and kill deer, elk or moose? Hope Ryden's observations of several years have not once been able to document such killing by coyotes. What has been observed and documented by observers (including rangers and wildlife officers) is that families of coyotes will meet, sit and wait for a sick or injured ungulate to die but will NOT touch him while he is alive. This has been observed in desert areas, mountains and specially in national parks.

    Let a hunter find the remnants of such a coyote-feast, he will claim coyote predation which he has not witnessed. Proof is not required by his hunting comrades or his rancher friends and allies - the war against the coyote flares up!

    Finally, let us touch on the subject of coyote attacks on humans, particularly children. Attacks on human adults have been recorded but upon investigation it was found that the animals involved were not a coyotes but someone's angry pet dog, a stray dog and each time a dog, that looked somewhat like a coyote and invariably larger and heavier than a coyote.

    The trouble is that most people don't realize that the coyote is not a large creature. As for attacks on children, they have occurred and here another strange phenomenon was observed. Invariably, the coyote who committed the attack (once it was determined that it was indeed, a coyote) was at one time, a pet coyote whom the "owners" considered tame. Many times, these "tame" coyotes live chained up in a backyard and once they reach adulthood and cease to be the adorable kits they were when found, they are no longer tame.

    COYOTES WILL NOT BE TAMED! The are wild animals and so they shall remain and any attempt to tame them can only result in grief to the animal and the human who tries it. Apart from the fact that they cannot help but revert to their wild nature when fully grown, they are also extremely territorial and will not brook violation of their boundaries by other animals, humans and very often - children.

    Anyone ignoring the true nature of this animal and insisting on altering it, is creating a potential disaster to himself, his family and to the animal who did not ask for such changes in his lifestyle.

    In the face of all this, the stupidity of man, the cruelty and horror he visits upon his little brother, the Trickster, the ingenious ways he dreams up to destroy God's Little Dog, in the face of deliberately endangering himself by exterminating vital links in the ecological chain - the little wild dog endured so far. With his special place in the care of the Great Spirit, he will continue to endure.

    Ms. Yarden and welcome your comments in response to this perspective piece. Please include your name, your general part of town, and a telpehone number [not for publication] so we can reach you.


    Ms Yarden's lengthy article did not address the central issue. Coyotes are in our neighborhoods. Coyotes are habituated to humans. Coyotes kill our pets and are a threat to our children.

    The politically correct answer, "We are living in their territory" is not an answer at all. Coyotes are dangerous, wild animals who have lost their fear of humans.

    They have stalked my wife and me as we walk our dog in our neighborhood. They travel in packs of two and three. They are in El Dorado Park where children camp every weekend.

    We call "Animal Control" and they tell us not to go outdoors. I told them, "I am not the animal you are supposed to control."

    Let's put the strategy on the ballot. Let our candidates declare if they are pro-human or pro-coyote. Let us vote! Los Alamitos has an interesting solution, control the animals. Interesting, what if our "Animal Control" did the same thing.

    When a child gets attacked, I hope this city gets dealt a severe lesson in Civil Court. I would love to be on the jury.


    I have never read such a complete and informative article as Miriam Yarden's. She covers the right of the coyotes to be here and makes a good point how the problems have been created by no one other then ourselves!

    Shirley Vaughan
    Long Beach

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