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Considering Coyotes

Jan 23, 2009

Brown CoyoteA coyote is staring at me. Fortunately, it’s on the wall in my office, peering out from the January page of the Missouri Department of Conservation's Natural Events Calendar. I wonder how many Missourians have seen a coyote face to face or caught a glimpse as it darts across a field or road. As furbearers, their winter pelts are pretty thick now so they appear bigger, bushier than in late summer. I’ve read stories in the newspaper about their boldness around people, but most of those are from California where they seem to be more common.

I know they’re all over Missouri, but I’ve felt lucky when I’ve seen them since they’re usually so wary here. One of our urban biologists near St. Louis noted that coyotes are the animals that generate the most questions/calls to our staff. People are unfamiliar with them and a little wary themselves—and unsure what to do when they see one in their backyards.

What impressions I had early on of them were not from reality, though, but from Wile E. Coyote cartoons, and from old Native American stories which called the coyote the “Trickster.” I didn’t realize firsthand, though, how truly clever they were until in my early career with the Conservation Department. We used to have young wild animals at our exhibit at the state fair (which was not a good idea for the long-term well-being of the animals and would no longer be acceptable). But given that times were different 23 years ago, I ended up taking one of the coyotes “home” to release after the fair at our place in the country, hoping it could adapt to the wild. Although it eventually did make its way off into the fields and woods, at first it hung around our house. One day I saw the coyote approach one of our doors, put both paws on the round knob and try to turn it. I realized it had seen people doing this in the large walk-in exhibits cages at the fairs. (Fortunately the knob was too smooth and it didn’t get a good grasp!) Then a few days later I was upstairs and suddenly heard water running somewhere. I ran downstairs and found the outdoor faucet gushing. And there stood the coyote. (That knob had ridges so gave a grip, I guess.) I turned it off, made sure there was a bowl of water outside from then on, and was lucky it didn’t happen again when I was off at work. I was relieved when it went back to the wild where it truly belonged.

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