By Dan Kirk
At the time the famous Looney Tunes cartoon show, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, was first being broadcast on American television in mid 20th century, the Bureau of Biological Survey killed off about 6.5 million coyotes (Canas latrans) in the American West. Without knowing what coyotes preyed on (rodents, rabbits, fruits and vegetables), the federal government aimed to protect growing livestock farms from the innocent “predator”, and for about 10 years the wild canine population kept shrinking. Turns out, as depicted in Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, coyotes are very resilient; ever evolving to be adaptive to changes in population and environment.
There are two very interesting reasons for their resiliency, one being that they developed something called fission-fusion adaptation (that humans also have), which enables them to survive in packs, in pairs or individually. When they are fatally threatened, they scatter across landscapes in singles and in pairs. Another reason is, again, when their population is suppressed, their litter size increases. To know when to increase their litter, they use their yipping and howls as a kind of census of population size; if their howls are not answered by other packs, it triggers an autogenic response that produces larger litters. This is, on the one hand, a Darwinian survival tactic, and on the other, kind of like magic.
In the 1970s, after a ban on coyote poisoning was passed, coyotes have spread widely through all types of landscapes, especially in cities. In the hills of the East Bay and in the streets of San Francisco, coyotes thrive. One might see a coyote running in the daylight with its tongue out up the hills of Wildcat Canyon Regional Park in Richmond, or hear the loud, yippy screachy barks and howls at twilight in the Presidio neighborhood of San Francisco. Depending on who you are, the sights and sounds of coyotes can be enchanting and for some, still threatening.
How does it make you feel when you hear a pack of coyotes bark? For me, whether I’m out camping in the desert or in my room in the East Bay, when I hear them yipping, I swoon.
Other articles in The Watershed Project newsletter about resilient living include: http://thewatershedproject.org/tales-of-resilience-the-california-sea-otter/