Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Little Dog that Sings....

February 16, 2010

When I mentioned to various people, almost in passing, that I was learning to call coyotes, they just assumed that it was in order to kill them. After hearing from many people how the coyote has decimated the deer herd here in Maine, and after having some people almost beg me to do my part, I briefly considered doing that. BTW: the deer herd is considered a commercial asset in most states, generating millions of dollars in revenue from hunters each year. But, I have re-considered.

In truth, I am not so sure that the sharp down-sizing of the deer herd is the coyote’s fault. Sure, they play a part in it, but, we have had two very severe winters in a row, and I believe that has had a much greater impact on the deer. The deer that congregated behind our house last winter were near starvation. We put out hundreds of pounds of apples, but it was obvious that food, not predation, was their biggest problem. My original impulse was that I wanted to see the animals that I so often hear. On a moonlit night last winter they were so close to the house that our retriever, Holly, would only growl very quietly, as if she was afraid that the coyotes might hear. She just looked at me as if to say, “Hey! There’s something out there and it is CLOSE!!”

When I lived in New Mexico I did see coyotes, even watched them team-hunting jack rabbits. They may play the fool in the Roadrunner cartoons, but the real Wiley is a very astute and clever animal. I saw them set-up ambushes and drive the jack bunnies right into the jaws of a team-member. I had the feeling that all coyotes know how to cooperate and that hunting that way was not exceptional.

Then there is the fact that they sing. One of my favorite names for them is ‘song dogs’, and to hear a pack of them let loose in the moonlight brings a broad smile to my face. Occasionally, I even hear them in the middle of the day, and I suppose that they have some reason for celebration, perhaps a turkey or a snowshoe rabbit has been caught. A few months back the news carried the story of a young Canadian woman--a folk-singer in fact--getting killed in a provincial park by coyotes. I would dearly like to know the whole story, but the only person who could tell it is dead. I don’t doubt that—like all dogs—coyotes are consummate opportunists. In a situation where it is obvious that they have the upper hand, I have no idea that they would fail to press that advantage. They are, after all, WILD predators, and making a living is imperative, like it is throughout nature.

I have been collecting photographs and painting prints of coyotes. Their gaze, out of keen yellow eyes, pretty much tells you who they are. It is intense and has that quality that you will never see in the eyes of a dog. It is the essence of wildness, and there is acute intelligence there too. Sadly, Wiley and co. have a bit of a rep. Whether you are in Montana, New Jersey, the burbs of any major city, or here in Maine, there is a general attitude that coyotes are our enemy. People shake their heads when coyotes come up in conversation. You might guess the consequences of this: there is an ongoing coyote Progrom in place…everywhere. There are even ‘tournaments’ and contests to eradicate as many of them as possible. Because of this an industry has emerged selling everything a hunter, or trapper, needs to bushwhack these little dogs. It is actually pretty amazing that any of them survive. But, in fact, they are thriving.

Coyotes are so adaptable and intelligent that they are able to suffer even the most persistent predations of the Ultimate Predator…….us.

I decided in the end, that I did not want to become one of the ‘eradicators’. I want to see them, and, yes, I carry a pistol, just for safety’s sake. But, I cannot imagine myself squinting through a telescopic sight with the crosshairs on a wild animal that I admire, that is also beautiful, and just struggling to carve out a niche… like all the other species out there.

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