Saturday, March 6, 2010

Wily, Shy Coyote

Recently, the Star Tribune ran an article by Kevin Giles about the growing number of coyotes in the Twin Cities. What makes this article so much fun to read -- in a scratch-yourself-until-you-yelp sort of way -- is that it lays bare the bizarre, schizoid thinking that people have about wildlife-- particularly predators.

Now, I admit, being a predator myself, I am sensitive to the types of adjectives applied to animals like me that are just doing their jobs. And I will own that I feel a certain amount of kinship with the "dog-like coyote." I certainly sat up and took more notice of this article than I would have if it was cougar-bashing time. There you have my biases.

Clearly, Mr. Giles has biases of his own -- as well as some very mixed feelings about coyotes, as evidenced by his headline.

Wily Coyotes Make Themselves at Home in the Metro Area: The shy dog-like predator has adapted quickly to city living. No humans have been hurt.

It is a strange juxtaposition of adjectives. When you consider the word WILY (artful, sly, designing, intriguing, tricky, foxy, deceitful, treacherous) is in stark contrast to SHY (retiring, withdrawn, timid, bashful, reserved, quiet). And this sets the tone for the whole article: coyote-bashing swirling in coyote understanding, warnings layered in reassurance, as well as the typical parade of "experts" and their entertaining sound-bites.

I do understand the temptation to playfully reference good old Wile E Coyote.  The name is so familiar that wily and coyote seem a natural pairing.  At first I thought Mr. Giles lost track of the real meaning of wily with that cartoon looming in his head. BEEP BEEP! Wile E Coyote was anything but wily.  He was a failure of a coyote in every way-- which of course was the humor base. But the real meaning of wily is not that funny.

Coyotes, of course, have a long history of clashing with humans and have rarely earned complimentary adjectives. They also don't earn the awe or fear of wolves and it is unlikely they will ever get a human's helping hand -- not they they really need it. Coyotes are adaptable, smart and highly effective. You would think these traits prized by humans would gain them admiration. But mostly it makes them enemies. People don't like animals that best them.

Whatever you think of coyotes, I just think reporters should back off from using such loaded language. And wily is so loaded. Even foxes are merely clever. The reporter doesn't stop there. Right after assuring the reader the shy dog-like predator hasn't hurt anyone, Mr. Giles' uses words like "infiltrating" and "feed." Terrorists infiltrate. Vampires feed. Why must he choose these words to describe coyotes?

"Deer, geese and the occasional cougar have paraded through metro neighborhoods, and now come the wily coyotes, which are infiltrating the metro area in record numbers...While they're difficult to count, coyotes could number in the thousands, drawn to parks and lakes and even neighborhoods where they feed on rabbits, squirrels, rodents and family pets."

Ha! Gotcha! You winced at family pets, didn't you. Nobody likes that part - especially me. But coyotes mainly eat small mammals in the varmint category. In the city, this would be mice, rabbits, rats and ground squirrels. (Sadly, I don't think they can catch tree squirrels like I can.) Coyotes even eat big bugs and carrion. Heck, they could probably make quick work of that turkey problem in Shoreview. My point is that people should be happy to have coyotes help out. The whole food chain/nature's balance thing. But it really comes down to those family pets... OK, and the occasional small child (just the one...and not here!)

In the end, I want to see some numbers. Are coyote numbers really growing in the Twin Cities?  How many pet snacks are we talking about? Anybody know anybody who lost a poodle to a coyote lately? Most of the "incidents" are SIGHTINGS. And most of the sightings lately were just people worried about the escaped Mexican wolf in New Brighton.

As one of the experts wisely pointed out,

"Coyotes are shy by nature, tend to avoid people, and by all accounts are less likely than the neighbor's dog to attack and injure someone."



  1. yer comments made me think about how much i'd hate to run into those coy-dogs up in Cape Breton. They're not your metro-variety coyote, they've bred with big domestic stock. s'posedly a woman from Ontario was killed by pack members last fall. The locals are really upset. not too many yorkies up there, but there are plenty of cats (pets). my dad is from Cape Breton and will take me up there this spring. I sure am glad I'm a black and red boy, they'd be gunnin' for me if I had the sable coat of my predicesor .


  2. You are correct about the prejudiced article regarding coyotes, Carmella! All animals have a right to exist. However, I loved your suggestion that the coyote problem might help the wild turkey problem--"balance of nature" and all that...