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Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural…
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Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History (2016)

by Dan Flores

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If you want a solid overview of the history of coyote presence in North America, you will get it here. This is one of our few surviving NATIVE predators -- and it was the precursor of the coyote that crossed the Bering land/ice bridge going west that populated Asia and Europe and evolved into the wolf. So yes, your beloved dog, by circuitous ways, was originally a north american animal of the western states. Unfortunately at least two thirds of the book is the nauseating tale of a hundred and some years of the futile attempts of whites and government to rid the continent of the coyote--based on no information about the animal at all, most of it. And I am serious about the nauseating piece. Right here, right now in the US there are still some states spending millions to find ways (including using poison) to kill coyotes. It's all out of habit, out of a refusal for the few remaining serious sheep farmers, it's a minor ag biz these days, to change--because, hey, the government is paying --so a scam, essentially, with the cooperation of the federal bureau folks who don't want to lose their own research funding!

Just last week I saw what is the largest single sheep herd in the east, I'm guessing it was around 400 - in Geneseo, NY, in western New York State. And guess what? The herd is minded by three enormous herding dogs, and a shepherd who doesn't stay out there all the time, but, say, during lambing, yep camps out there. Turns out the best coyote control is three dogs and a shepherd. Sweet and clean. And as things go, inexpensive. Vet bills, dog food . . . dog's with a purpose, a job for someone who likes the outdoors.

Here's another thing. We really need our predators. I learned recently that in the religious middle ages because cats were regarded as agents of the devil, cities would periodically purge themselves of them. Guess what? Good-bye cats and hello PLAGUE! Plague spikes have been definitively connected with cat purges. Well, duh! Coyotes have moved eastward and westward and everywhere they can as a result of being hounded in the West (where there numbers never reduce no matter what anyone tries) and now live in suburbs and cities. Why? Because over millenia as the 'small' wolf, they had to learn to be very clever to not be killed by the gray wolves. They can move to these urban and suburban places because they have no competition and there is lots to eat, even without killing your cat. And actually, studying stomach contents of urban/suburban coyotes only turns up 2 to 10% cat. The main reason they kill cats (and here is a lovely phrase) is that coyotes regard them--and dogs--as "intraguild predators"--e.g. competitors for the real prey. Cities are chock-a-block with prey from (another lovely word) "synanthropic" animals from rats everywhere to deer in the fringier places, that get along fabulously near humans. And there is a vacuum of predator competition, cats notwithstanding. After a few rabies episodes feral dog packs were purged from cities in the early 1900's (with shocking cruelty, causing the founding of the SPCA) creating a vacuum. Today's urban coyotes mainly eat Canadian Geese and rats and mice, and yes, fawns. Even better coyotes are not carriers of rabies, they can get it from bites, but they don't carry and spread it as dogs and many other animals can. They are not, generally pack animals, either although they can act as loners or a pack (one of their main survival strategies.) A few develop do seem to develop a taste for cats, and a few are so fearless they could pose a danger to humans. But after our centuries of animosity to them, all but the most rare and frankly stupid coyote, is afraid of any and all humans. All a human need do is stand their ground and shout and throw things (act big and tough) and the coyote will quickly depart. And keep your cats in at night. In general the east, the coyotes have also interbred with some of the few remaining red wolves --( who have proved from DNA to be hybrid coyotes from far longer ago than our white presence altered everything) They are bigger and, yes, more aggressive, but not stupid either. You leave them entirely alone, do not feed them, do not kid yourself about them, maybe keep your dog on a lead (unless it obeys commands and sticks close) in the wilder places you might go hiking, and you should be fine. The bottom line is, we can either learn to be sensible or we can remain ignorant idiots when it comes to living in harmony with predators whom we need -- we need them to keep down the populations of the animals (like deer) who are overpopulating and overbrowsing.

It's something to be aware of, wherever you live that some counties and states still spend insane amounts of money on coyote "management"-- from poisons to parties where people go off and shoot them for entertainment.

This is a long review but these are matters very dear to my heart. I'm not, by the way, any sort of bleeding heart. I grew up in a mix of urban and then very rural country. Deer populations in the northeast seriously need management--especially as the numbers of human hunters are dropping steadily. I am counting on the coyote and I am more than willing to moderate my own behaviour to return the favor.

I will be looking for some of the books Flores mentions of the collections of native american coyote stories. This animal is truly our iconic, native animal--maybe even more important to us than the eagle or Franklin's turkeys. ( )
3 vote sibyx | Jun 13, 2017 |
Coyote America is an interesting history of coyotes and their relationships with humans. Not just focusing on the scientific facts, Flores also looks to folklore, Native American religious traditions, and popular cartoon to analyze our relationship with this remarkable animal. One of his more interesting observations is the pronunciation gap: people who pronounce coyote with three syllables generally view coyotes much more favorably than those who pronounce it with two. He also looks at their amazing adaptability, moving taking advantage of man's wiping out wolves to take over the continent and the removal of feral dog packs to become urban transplants. They also have a an amazing ability to increase their litter sizes when under population stress. Therefore they can be poisoned out of existence in an area (unfortunately still legal and not uncommon) and be back at 75% of previous levels within a year thanks to immigration. The pointlessness of the efforts to wipe out coyotes is well described in the book. Unfortunately, some people have a visceral hatred of coyotes and won't listen to science. But it looks like the tide is turning in the coyote's favor, and that they will still be here and hanging out with humans for many centuries to come.

A very nice popular science book. Perfect for anyone with an interest in coyotes, books that merge social science with natural science, or interesting non-fiction about American culture. ( )
1 vote inge87 | Jul 30, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0465052991, Hardcover)

A natural history of the coyote—whose success story and adaptability mirror humanity's own

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 25 Jan 2016 18:39:23 -0500)

This book "is both an environmental and a deep natural history of the coyote. It traces both the five-million-year-long biological story of an animal that has become the wolf in our backyards, as well as its cultural evolution from a preeminent spot in Native American religions to the hapless foil of the Road Runner. A deeply American tale, the story of the coyote in the American West and beyond is a sort of Manifest Destiny in reverse, with a pioneering hero whose career holds up an uncanny mirror to the successes and failures of American expansionism"--Dust jacket flap.… (more)

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