While out on a jog near my San Francisco apartment recently, I looked up and could not believe my eyes. I had encountered the legendary and elusive Coyote, right there in one of the busiest urban centers, only blocks away from skyscrapers, parking garages, freeways, and people. Though a bit shaken up at first, I later found myself reflecting on what Coyote had to teach me.
Found in parks, backyards, and even roaming the streets of New York City and San Francisco, coyotes have been a part of the North American backdrop for thousands of years. The modern species of coyote, Canis latrans, arose during the Middle Pleistocene Era, so it’s no wonder these sly creatures have crept into cultural tales and folklore for centuries. Most Native American tribes have stories featuring the tricky coyote as a major mythical figure. For the Miwok and neighboring people of Northern California, the coyote was revered above all other creatures; he was believed to be the ancestor of humanity and the creator of the earth.
One oral tradition from the Navajo tells of Coyote stealing fire from the gods through trickery and deception in order to save humanity from the winter frost. While maybe this story exaggerates a few points, coyotes are incredibly adaptive and cunning creatures.
Originally, the coyote’s pre-Columbian range was limited to the southwest and plains regions of the U.S. and Canada as well as northern and central Mexico. But by the 19th century, this opportunistic species began to expand north and west. Today, its range encompasses all of the U.S. and Mexico, southward into Central America, and northward into most of Canada and Alaska. Living near farms, in mountains, as well as in cities–coyotes have proven that they can truly “make it anywhere.”
In order to survive in such diverse habitats, coyotes have to be highly versatile in their choice of food. They have been known to eat everything from bison and deer to crustaceans and insects. Clearly, they are not picky eaters, so if the opportunity presents itself, coyotes have even eaten livestock or family pets.
While their nutrition habits should be seen as an incredible adaptation to modernity, many farmers, ranchers, and pet owners feel differently. The modern coyote is not revered or idolized like he once was. Instead, coyotes today are misrepresented as pests or feared as predators. However, rather than look at these creatures as frightening carnivores, humans should try to learn from these resilient animals. As our world faces incredible ecological and social changes, coyotes exemplify the capacity to evolve and coexist. Perceived as deceivers, tricksters, and even pests–coyotes are first and foremost, survivors.