I Love Coyotes and I Don’t Care Who Knows
By Chris Clarke
Chris Clarke is a journalist, writer, activist, and co-host on the new podcast, “Ninety Miles from Needles.” Clarke has been interpreting the desert for more than 30 years. He is joined by co-host, Alicia Pike, a talented co-conspirator, and by the community of activists and others working to keep the desert whole.
I will never understand people who don’t like coyotes.
I mean, it really doesn’t matter much to coyotes as a whole whether we like them or not. Sure, individual coyotes can suffer at our hands, which makes me about as angry as it would any other red-blooded bunny hugger. But coyotes, as a whole, have been doing just great despite completely ridiculous efforts on the part of humans to make them go away. Since the 19th Century, the US government has spent untold millions of our dollars indiscriminately murdering coyotes — half a million between 2006 and 2011, for example — and yet there are more coyotes alive today than there ever were before we started massacring them.
I spent the first couple decades of my life living where there were no coyotes. I won’t be doing that again if I can help it. For the last dozen years I have lived literally surrounded by coyotes. It would be hard to lose that. Funny thing. If I get woken up at three in the morning by loud singing coming from my neighbors’ yard, there’s part of me that unconsciously checks the species of the singers. If the singers are humans, I get incensed and think about people feeling entitled and some people have to work in the damn morning. If they’re coyotes, I smile, my heart swells, and I go back to sleep. I admit this constitutes a bias on my part.
There was one morning a few years back, where I was up early, like around 4:30, getting ready to drive to a 9:00 am meeting in Shoshone. Stumbling around my kitchen making coffee, I heard a family of coyotes begin to sing, and I smiled deep and woke all the way up, and then some person in one of the nearby houses ruined the concert by letting fly with an air horn. The coyotes fell silent. I was still furious when I passed Baker on my way north three hours later. It was a textbook case of coyotus interruptus.
At this point some readers are no doubt thinking about some beloved cat or small dog, or big dog, that is no longer around because it had an unfortunate interaction with a coyote or two. My fondness for coyotes doesn’t mean I don’t empathize. I have a dog who, while smarter than I am, is just stupid enough to pick fights with coyotes. I don’t let her do that. We can have the larger argument about unsupervised pets roaming loose outside in a later essay, but it’s an especiall bad idea to let your pets roam outdoors in coyote country. We have, after all, spent a century and change trying to get the coyotes to change their ways. They’re not going to, so we have to. It’s simple math. That said, I totally get being furious at them if you’re grieving. It’s an emotionally healthy response. I have lost a pet or seven, though mostly to old age, and I have spent months being red-hot angry at the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
What I don’t get is the people who make disliking coyotes a lifestyle. I run into them from time to time. There are a few people, mainly men, who take up killing coyotes as a mission in life. They have persuaded themselves that coyotes are evil vermin, and on occasion they try to persuade me as well. “Have you seen what they’ll do to a calf? The suffering they cause?” they’ll ask. I have, in fact. I have also seen what happens in slaughterhouses, and I have a strong opinion about which is the greater evil.
Unpleasant topics aside, though, the main reason I don’t understand how people out here in the desert can have any feeling other than awed respect for coyotes is that they fit. They’re like redwood trees in a redwood forest, or bison on the prairie, or constellations in the night sky. Coyotes live in the desert as though every desert plant and animal donated their camouflage and trickery and resilience and spikiness, which was all then distilled into one crafty species. They are the lords of the Mojave Desert. Really, we’re just borrowing the place from them, and we may as well start to act like it.
By the way, you do know not to feed them, right? We’ll discuss why in an upcoming episode of 90 Miles from Needles, available at 90milesfromneedles.com or your favorite podcast source.