Encounters with Coyotes in the Past and Present

Reader Contribution by Geri Vistein
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Fellow intelligent being reading you. Photo by Shreve Stockton 

Time spent speaking with our communities is a part of my work I very much enjoy as a Conservation Biologist. Members of the community get to ask questions they have never had the opportunity to ask before, and share experiences with coyotes they didn’t always understand.  The discussions that follow enrich all that are present.

The final portion of my Coyote presentations, I entitle “Coyote and Us.” Here, I will often ask anyone if they have had an “encounter” with a particular coyote. And just this past week, a member of the audience shared hers:

She was taking a walk down a path and she came upon a coyote that had been napping, tucked away in the shrubbery. Her presence awakened the coyote, who sprung to her feet and trotted off down the path ahead of the woman. Then the coyote stopped, turned around and gazed at the woman. They both stood there looking at each other for several moments. Then the coyote turned around and trotted off.

Many people do not understand what coyotes are about when they stop…turn around….and look at you for awhile. First of all, this is true coyote behavior.Coyotes, like other highly intelligent animals, see us as fellow intelligent beings. And as they stand there and stare at us, they are “reading us.” And they are very good at reading us! All of you who are reading this blog post, and have dogs….may I ask… “Do your dogs read you?”  And “Do you read your dogs?” You know the answer.

This same woman spoke about the coyotes that live in her area as “tame.” Oh no! Oh no! They should not be tame you say! But what is “tame” and what is what she observed?

And what she observed was not that the coyotes were tame (meaning domesticated) but that they were “at ease” in the presence of humans. Is this normal coyote behavior? Yes! But remember that “being at ease” and “being habituated,” are two different behaviors. “Habituated” starts leaning toward dependence on humans for food. And that is not wild coyote behavior!

Fellow intelligent being. Photo by Shreve Stockton

In his book The Ohlone Way author Malcolm Margolin wrote:

The white man changed the relationship that the wild ones had with us [having no fear to having great fear…and distancing themselves from us]. Today, we are the heirs of that distance, and we take it entirely for granted that animals are naturally secretive and afraid of our presence. But for the Indians who lived here before us this was simply not the case. Animals and humans inhabited the very same world, and the distance between them was not very great.

In my conversations with some of our farmers, they have shared with me their experiences with coyotes in which “the distance between them was not very great.” And I found it very interesting, that in their stories the coyotes on their farm “read” the farmer. They knew that it was safe for them to hunt for mice during the daytime. They knew they were safe on that farm. They trusted the farmers, and you know, these farmers trusted the coyote.

Coyotes have lived among our human species for over 15,000 years and they have been at ease in doing so. So I think that an aspiration for our generation would be to start learning how to be at ease with coyotes, begin learning how to read them…as they are excellent in reading us. And in doing so, we will learn the appropriate behaviors to respond to them.

Dr Gordon Haber, esteemed biologist who has spent his entire career among wolves in Alaska has shared in his writings that the natural state of wild canines is to be bold and unafraid. So our dictionary describes bold as daring, brave courageous, intrepid — all positive descriptions we give to our own species.

So in closing, I would encourage you to leave fear out of our growing relationship with this amazing, intelligent species.

Let us not fear them, let us not cause fear in them. Let us live in peace.

Geri Vistein is a conservation biologist whose work focuses on carnivores and our human relationships with them. In addition to research and collaboration with fellow biologists in Maine, she educates communities about carnivores and how we can coexist with them. You can find her at Coyote Lives in Maine, and read all of Geri’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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