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Totems: Coyote, Part 4

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman


A path encircles the clearing in the woods behind the house, and curves toward the tree-towering hillside. Right where the trees meet the openness I was suddenly face-to-face with a beautiful young coyote. I hadn’t seen movement, nor the tawny grey fur that blended in with the landscape. Both of us stood still, taking each other’s measure for a pregnant moment, before the coyote disappeared into the forest before my very eyes. A big chunk of Coyote Medicine is invisibility. Imagine always having to hide from the civilization that is constantly trying to kill you. That’s why their tri-colored fur blends in with their surroundings. Since we are living in times that are tough to thrive and be joyous in, coyote is the perfect totem, teaching us to survive well despite daily multiple assaults on our bruised psyches, physical bodies, and beleaguered spirits.

As opportunistic hunters and omnivores, they have a varied diet. It’s one of the reasons they thrive. Specialists eating only one kind of prey are generally short-lived in cosmic time. Coyotes eat live prey and carrion, leaves, fruit, corn, nuts and even trash. Some prey, like meadow voles are caught by a vertical jackknife pounce; large prey may be chased for long distances. Do you tend to wake frequently at night? Coyotes don’t have a regular sleep schedule, though they may predominantly hunt at night. A hapless mouse might find coyote showing up any time though, for they take “cat” naps, night and day.

Coyotes have crushing molars and long, pointed canine teeth, perfectly designed for tearing off and chewing large chunks of flesh. If they live in an area where large animals like deer are the primary prey, as in the tundra, coyotes will live and hunt in a pack. They even work together while chasing their prey by taking turns leading the pack. Coyotes are fast runners - up to 40 m.p.h. If not living in a pack, they usually live alone or in pairs. When coyotes in the Midwest hunt at prairie dog towns, one partner will make all the “dogs” stand on top of their mounds, bark and flick their tails, while the other tries to sneak up on one of them from behind.

A most remarkable partnership has developed between coyotes and badgers (see my September 2010 Badger article: http://wisdom-magazine.com/Article. aspx/1795/). Cooperation between these two animals has developed over many generations, in perfect symbiosis. This is called proto-cooperation. The strengths of one complement the other, but they can also survive quite well without each other’s help. Coyote’s heightened sense of smell locates the prey’s burrow. Badger’s powerful forelimbs and huge claws dig it out. Both happily share the results. Though badgers will not suffer familiarity by coyotes, and are sometimes sourpusses toward them, not so for coyote, who upon seeing badger, often wags his tail and rolls over in delight – (probably anticipating dinner)! At best, once coyote ceases its obsequious behavior, badger may let coyote rest beside it. They have even been seen on occasion playing or chasing together. In a less dramatic partnership, coyotes follow ravens and vultures in search of carrion.

Coyote continuously foils our expectations. A result of being a predator that has to constantly adapt and change its hunting tactics is that coyotes are curiously intelligent. If hunger leads them to a domestic sheep, they probably will not pass it up. For this reason, ranchers and farmers try constantly to control attacks by them. Wily coyote however, can climb a six-foot fence, dig under electric fences and seems to have a sixth sense about poison. When traps are set in an area, it has been noted by some animal control officers, that “all the coyotes seem to know.” In his book, “Living With Coyotes: Managing Predators Humanely Using Food Aversion Conditioning” Stuart Ellins gave tranquilizer-laced sheep meat to one group. Later, when the first group merged with a second, by some unknown form of communication or mind meld, the second group was “told” to stay away from the tainted meat. None of the coyotes would eat it.

As one with this Medicine, you also just seem to know things. You might find yourself able to make decisions quickly and surely. You just seem to know what’s going to work. You usually get things done; perhaps behind the scenes, but efficiently. And if someone stands in your way, they might just find themselves with egg on their faces – maybe even the same eggs they themselves bought! They may never realize they’ve been “coyote’d” until way after it has happened.

Coyotes have been persecuted even longer than wolves. They have been killed to protect livestock, for their fur, and from plain old meanness. Though recent investigations show that predation of livestock by coyotes is far less common than thought, the same cruel methods of killing persist. Pups are killed in their dens; adults are trapped, gassed, snared, or shot on foot or from aircraft, and though it’s outlawed - poisoned. While we still have wildlife, isn’t it time we find ways of living with predators humanely, as in Ellins’ aversion experiments?

When possible, 90% of their food is meat, mostly small mammals, but here’s a surprise: some coyotes have learned rudimentary fishing techniques, and others catch and eat birds. In season, they will eat fruits (watermelon) and vegetables, eggs, insects (beetles), and flowers. In a pinch, they will eat carrion or city trash. We may feel nature is harsh and cruel when a predator kills and eats prey, but is it really better for an old or injured animal to suffer for years, instead of being taken out quickly? Also, the healthy animals that are left leave a viable gene pool for future generations.

What was once called the Bureau of Biological Survey and then Animal Damage Control is now Wildlife Services. How many animals this service, by any name, has killed is an atrocious number of animals and is well documented. At the top of the list is coyote. A typical year will see the mandated deaths of about a hundred thousand coyotes – and that’s just out West. Yes, there are sometimes conflicts of interest between animals and humans. A renegade coyote may poach a sheep, but on the whole, they keep other potential predators of livestock away. Occasionally, they will eat a stray pet (especially when they have a new litter to feed). Yes, it’s horrible, horrible when a coyote takes your beloved pet. Yes, sometimes imperfect solutions are reached. However, there is no excuse for “vested interests” like lobbyists and sports/trophy hunters to hold sway on coyotes living or dying. AND it doesn’t even work! Like spitting into the wind, trying to eradicate coyotes often has an astounding rebound effect. More females give birth to even more pups in much larger litters. When the population of a pack is stable, the lead female might be the only one to have a litter. She will go into heat 3 or 4 times a year; each litter having 3 or 4 pups. When there is a coyote massacre in an area, all the females will mate and dig dens, even ones that wouldn’t normally ovulate for at least another year. They will go into heat around 9 times a year. You’ll never get rid of them. When a coyote dies, within weeks, another will move into their territory. No wonder native legends say that if all the animals on earth disappeared, coyote would be the last. Whether you think of coyote as a nuisance, a teacher or a sacred clown, there is no doubting its abilities as a survivor. Probably coyote’s greatest teaching is that those who trust in the process of Life itself are those who will survive and thrive. What do you choose, freedom or fear? The way people react to coyote says a lot about them. Those full of fear try to destroy what is wild and free because they fear that in themselves.

In the midst of all the enmity directed toward coyotes, one woman had the courage to create a different paradigm. A New York City transplant to Wyoming, writer and photographer, Shreve Stockton took in a 10-day old coyote pup and has raised him, (Charlie) balancing his wildness with family life; exploring the truth of nature vs. nurture. One can subscribe to The Daily Coyote and receive great photos of Charlie once a month.

Consider all we have in common with coyotes. We are both creatures of change, adapting constantly to shifting resources, habitat, and rhythms. We both have families, love to play, feel hunger, joy and pain. Coyotes are affectionate, cooperative and sociable with each other. Even though coyotes rarely attack people and actually show submissive behavior when captured, there are those who hunt them down as though they were vicious. When we kill off the large predators, our environment goes out of balance, and then we have other serious problems to deal with. One of the reasons Lyme disease has spread so successfully all up and down the east coast and inland is because there are drastically fewer predators for deer and rodents, often carriers of Lyme-diseased ticks. Their future will be decided between those who wish to kill off or drive out coyotes as perceived competitors for food, or those that are willing to find ways to live in harmony with all creatures in the one habitat we call Earth. 


Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a Healer, Writer, Minister, Advocate and Steward for the natural world for over 40 years. For Healing for you or your animal, Flower Essences, Training, or her Book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com



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