Not only has the animal survived genocidal attempts at its destruction, its thrived and expanded from the arid southwest to the concrete canyons of New York.”>
Forget those pampered pooches at the local kennel club, the coyote is the great American dog.
Environmental historian Dan Flores tracks the pedigree, chronicles the plight, and sings the praises of Canis latrans in his new book, Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History . Although his academic research is wide-ranging and his presentation nuanced, theres no doubt Flores heart is on the side of the animal.
It wasnt the call of the wild that sparked a young Floress coyote consciousness. It was the wonderful world of Walt Disney.
As a boy growing up in rural Louisiana, Flores was drawn to the outdoors and surrounded by family hound dogs, but it was Disneys immensely popular weekly television show that in 1961 gave him a primer on a subject that has held his fascination in the ensuing decades with an episode titled, The Coyotes Lament.
The film offered, as Disney himself said, the coyotes side of the story, which is an amazing and true tale of resilience and surprising prosperity in the face of more than a century of attempts at extermination.
And why not?
Indefatigable and adaptable, the coyote not only has survived all attempts to eliminate it from the landscape, but it has actually managed to greatly expand its range: From the deserts of the West to the streets of New York. These days it is as at home in Chicago as the Cubs and, Flores writes, is believed to be colonizing the suburbs. Theres also evidence coyotes have hybridized with wolves and dogs in the South and Northeast.
Why havent more people rooted for its survival?
That, Flores said in a recent interview, may be as much a matter of politics and marketing as environmental awareness. It had been long ago bullied into the shadows by its big brother, the gray wolf, and forced to adapt. That skill came in handy once wolf-wary European settlers began their migration to the West in the 1800s. While wolves were no match for guns and traps and were brought to the brink of extinction, little brother proved harder to kill.
Even the tricksters greatest pranks and deceptions didnt rate an attempt at genocide. Gassed and garroted, shot and trapped, if it were merely an enemy combatant in a declared war, the coyote would have been protected by the Geneva Conventions.
And still it survives.
In its own clueless way, Flores writes, Wildlife Services begs the question of how North America ever functioned without us. Its irony as a taxpayer program is that its relentless, lethal harassment of coyotes in the rural West is a principal reason why there are coyotes running through the streets of New York City today.
With the rise of environmental consciousness and the repopulation of the wolf, the coyote at last is receiving a modicum of deserved respect. While its still trapped and slaughtered in cruel numbers, it has found its way in the world. Unless youre a sheepherder, or a Congressman from mutton country, youll likely find yourself rooting for the coyotes survival against withering odds and some downright sinister attempts to kill it.
And if by chance you hear its distant song at sunset, know it is having the last laugh.
John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas-based journalist and the author of a dozen books.