Coyotes. One of my favorite wild canids, this species is one that I have had so much fun interacting with either in a sanctuary or just observing in the wild. Adult males averaging around 22 to 25 pounds when fulling grown, they get to be roughly two feet in height at the shoulder and three and half to four and a half feet in length. The sizes of this species varies on location. The largest sub-species of coyotes inhabit the North-Eastern U.S. and Eastern Canada. These animals are absolutely beautiful and can be easy to identify. Coyotes grow long coarse hair that is a grey-ish/black on top with white highlights underneath and spots of red, especially on the legs. A coyotes appearance will change based on the climate it inhabits. Hotter and drier climates of California will have coyotes that display more of the grey and brown/tan colors in their coat where the coyotes that reside in mountainous environments have colors that appear darker with less of the lighter browns. The tail is one part of the coyote that can help you easily tell it apart from other canids with its bushy appearance and black tip. What are the odds of spotting one of these amazing creatures then? Well, that's where the problem lies. It doesn't seem too incredibly difficult to find them, especially in our backyards.
The Californian Department of Fish and Game estimate that the population of coyotes statewide ranges from 250,00 to 750,000. Residents of Southern California are certainly no strangers to these wild neighbors, even getting glimpses of them running through their urban/suburban streets in the morning hours as they leave for work. What brings these coyotes to our streets and even into our yards? The answer here begins with the ideal habitat that these animals are looking for and can survive in. That habitat is at the crossroads of Southern California development and natural lands.
The interface where natural coyote habitats and urban areas intersect creates an astonishingly attractive security blanket for coyotes in Southern California. When we build new housing developments we make the tools to surviving readily available to these animals. As all living things, we share basic needs with coyotes. Food, water, shelter. All of which are provided with new developments. The collection of water, food in our trashcans, pet food left out as well as small pets themselves can serve as a meal for coyotes. We build infrastructure on the outskirts of these
developments that allow for a perfect place to escape the elements in the wild. Drainage culverts, for example, are known to be frequented by coyotes looking for a place to escape the open grasslands. Whether rain or heat, they adapt to use what we build to survive. Naturally, these canids prefer the natural landscape of this region. However, when faced with being displaced or slightly adapting, they will easily fall into a routine cultivated around the urban landscape and its outskirts. This leads to a higher number of conflict between wild animal and humans. The more run-ins can be dangerous for humans of course, but what about the coyotes?
Some examples of what coyote conflicts in urban areas occur are; destroyed property, harassing pets, bullying/assaulting humans, displaying daring/violent behavior. Legally, coyotes can be lethally eliminated for what is known as "human health and safety assaults". These can be due to any of the conflicts listed above and at first glance may seem justifiable to some. I mean the words "violent, daring, assault and harassing" are intense vernacular to use. I want us to take a minute to think of the reason behind this behavior. For starters, we are uninvited guests taking up their natural habitat that they rely on to survive.
That being said, we should expect nothing less than seeing and encountering these animals with where we are. Southern California has the recipe, in every square inch of its land, to be the perfect habitat for coyotes. Consistent temperatures, abundance of food and the landscape make an idyllic home for them. Does this mean our encounters be a death sentence? Definitely not and there are ways for us to mitigate risk and negative encounters without adverse effects on their populations.
First, we must accept the natural world as part of ours. Many of us feel like there is a distance from that world, built by commercial construction companies with skyscrapers and endless housing developments. This is incredibly false. Every time you walk outside you are interacting with the amazing ecosystems of that area. No matter how much concrete has been poured. Part of this acceptance of the natural world comes with acknowledging that coyotes are living on the outskirts of our communities. Not only are they living alongside us, but they can become dependent on humans for survival. The problem with this is that humans tend to be on very different pages when it comes to how we interact with wildlife as well as the intentions we have with those interactions. The best course of action is to not interact directly with them. Ways to avoid interaction is to never feed wildlife of any kind. This is the fastest way to steal the sense of threat animals have for humans. Leaving out pet food or unsecured trash may entice wild animals to venture into populated areas. If done over a long period of time these animals will likely have encounters with humans that could lead to a false sense of safety with us. Coyotes have an intuitive sense of threat towards humans as a source of danger. This threat sense will eventually fade if the coyote is around humans without any actions to reinforce that we are in fact a threat.
Hazing is the best way to reinforce this to wildlife. What exactly is hazing though? Hazing is any action taken to scare off an animal. Actions will vary depending on what animal is being hazed, but with coyotes it is fairly easy. Wave your hands above your head and make loud noises. Yelling at a coyote may be enough to startle them and get them to run off. However, some will not leave right away.
If a coyote is sticking around try taking a few steps towards them if they are not displaying any behavior that could be interpreted as aggressive. If the they walk off and then stop and stare at you without continuing out of the area, it is very important you continue to haze the animal until they do leave. Not every encounter you have with coyotes will you need to haze them. Only haze a coyote who is either approaching you, a pet, or someone else, especially if they are displaying aggressive behavior. If you are observing them in the wild, at a safe distance, then hazing wouldn't be necessary and you can just enjoy the natural beauty of this animal as it shares a glimpse into its life with you.
Getting to see these amazing animals in their natural habitat is a something I find to be extremely beautiful. However, not everyone feels this way and the overall consensus of a neighborhood or even an entire city can change in an instant. Overall, most people live right alongside of coyotes without ever really giving them much thought at all. Neither to the negative connotations people have attached to them nor the positive influence they have on our environment and local ecosystems. That can change almost instantly when there is pressure from other humans to impose actions towards this species. It could be as simple as a coyote tearing up your neighbor's trashcan every week they leave it out to a cat being taken at the end of the street. Humans, sometimes inadvertently, call for the elimination of these animals. People that went years without thinking about coyotes could be turned into anti-coyote advocates all because someone on the street left their dog out all night and it was attacked by a coyote trying to survive in this unnatural environment. We often forget that we can mitigate those negative encounters without expecting a wild animal to just know better. The irony in developing their home and then being upset they are fighting to survive is astonishing.
By sharing positive experiences with nature and wildlife, we can change an old narrative that has rooted itself in our society. Let's focus on the beauty and especially the important roles every animal plays in the natural world and how we can help them. Education being the first step in this process. By taking the time to learn how animals that you may have thought of as a nuisance is in fact an important pillar in the natural landscape of your home, you begin to create change. Look past the buildings and sidewalks and you will see into a world of natural wonder!
If you would like to help the conservation of coyotes and other wild canids, there are plenty of options. One of which is a non-profit organization based in Santa Ysabel, California that is very important to me personally. The Judith A. Basset Canid Education and Conservation Center (JABCECC) was started and run by Dave and Amy Basset in honor of Dave's late mother who ingrained a deep love for canids in him as a young child. His wife Amy is just as passionate about the conservation of canids as they continue to help them worldwide. To them, nothing is impossible when the fate of animals are stake. You can book encounters and photoshoots with their rescues or even donate to support their cause.