Saturday, February 1, 2014

Enjoy! --But Don't Feed Them!

I  ventured out back yesterday morning looking for new tracks of our elusive coywolf (aka eastern coyote*), and found beautiful fresh tracks all over the place.  I planned to follow them later on to see what she'd been up to, but in the meantime, the dogs needed to go out.  I wondered what the dogs would think of fresh coyote tracks, so I brought them to see.  In the process, the three of us surprised Herself, who spotted us as I did her, about 30 yards away.  (The dogs, bless their weak eyesight, never saw her at all.)  She wheeled instantly round and trotted back into the woods at a pace efficient but not especially hurried.  The dogs, meanwhile, were fascinated by the tracks and snuffled them as thoroughly as my patience would permit.

Going out to take pictures shortly afterward, we surprised each other again.  --odd that she would have stayed so close.  Or maybe not...  Tavi, the little girl my wife looks after on most school mornings, wanted to see them, so I brought her out an hour later, only to surprise Herself a second time.  Tavi was delighted, and went to school with a story to tell. 

I conclude that my elusive coywolf isn't elusive at all, but very familiar--and maybe almost too friendly.  Certainly not the "catch" I pictured her as--a wild animal I once thought to spy on with a night-vision camera (actually a baby monitor picked up from a yard sale).  Instead, I expect to be on a first name basis very soon.

Coywolf in "The Beach" neighborhood of Toronto.  Photo credit copywrite 2013 Coy Wolf Inc., take from

I began looking up info on coywolves after happening upon a PBS Nature program, and finding out that these enormously adaptable animals are at home even in downtown urban areas--populations are under study in New York City and Toronto.  They are beautiful animals, coyote-like in shape, but closer to gray wolves in size.  Despite have no protection under the law, their populations are expanding in forty-nine states.  They appear to mate for life.  They eat enough rodents to help control populations, and are also very fond of eggs of Canada Geese, whose populations are out-of-control in these parts.  They sometimes tackle deer. 

Coywolves coexist quite happily with humans, liking the environment we create while remaining just skittish enough not to be often seen--especially considering their large populations.  A coywolf can have a territory of 6 square miles, but in a city needs only half that.  Although they sometimes eat pets, the danger of that is probably exaggerated; but best we don't leave pets outdoors unattended.  Statistically, they aren't nearly as dangerous to humans as dogs are. 

The biggest danger to us from these animals comes if they lose their fear of us.  History suggests that we can continue to live happily together if we humans follow one simple rule: DON'T FEED THEM.  It is regular feeding that brings them into frequent close contact and causes them to become fearless.  Therefore do not feed them deliberately, and also avoid feeding them even accidentally--such as by feeding pets outdoors. 

I hope to see them out my windows often.  They're beautiful animals.  But I hope never to see one stand his or her ground in my presence; that animal would sooner or later be a danger to the neighborhood pets and possibly people, and someday likely face a police bullet.

*Now established to be part of a widely-distributed population hybrid between the western coyote and the eastern wolf, with an interesting history.

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