The wild dog of America is known to us through nature films
and fun cartoons, but what is its history? COYOTE AMERICA
explores how it feels to live with these animals and hear
them howl by night. Every major city now has a coyote
management plan, Dan Flores tells us. Using evidence from
archaeology, newspapers and genetic studies, he examines
the origins and spread of coyotes.
The coyote evolved in the western part of North America,
sharing an ancestor with grey wolves, and some of these
early canids migrated to Asia, then Africa where they
became jackals. Five hundred years ago Europeans noted that
coyotes prevailed in drier climes, not on the Canadian
coast or high mountains but numbering in millions in the
desert or plains. Eyeing Spanish sheep, the beast known
as 'coyotl' to the Mexican Natives entered written records.
Scavenging from human endeavours then led the coyote to
previously unknown haunts, including the Yukon trail.
One factor which aided the spread of coyotes, explains Dan
Flores, was the eradication of wolves in most habitats.
The intense battle against coyotes by livestock farmers
pushed the packs into lands they had never occupied, just
as new national parks and forests were being created. They
colonised urban areas just as they have always hung around
human settlements; for their primary prey is mice and rats.
Efficient pest controllers, wily tricksters and adaptable
survivors. Sadly, they are also snatchers of pets. With
minimal protections, coyotes are persecuted wholesale.
I was very interested in the section on prehistory of the
canids, from dire wolves to grey wolves to golden jackals.
America gave the world the horse and wolf, then Eurasia
gave in return the bison and mammoth. The La Brea Tar Pits
trapped predators as well as prey, so we know that coyotes
co-existed with wolf species. Early coyotes were large pack
hunters, but as the giant mammals went extinct, they shrank
to fit new prey, hunting individually and could even eat
vegetable matter. With an account from the Lewis and Clark
expedition in 1804 balancing wisdom tales of the native
peoples, we get plenty of good illustrations as the
scientists puzzled over the new species. California
experienced 'gross swarms of mice' after coyotes were
poisoned wholesale in 1927, we learn. Observations in
modern Yellowstone round off the book, if you are of a
tender nature and don't wish to know about the shooting,
poisoning, trapping and sterilising efforts detailed near
the end. COYOTE AMERICA does what it says on the pack. Dan
Flores has created a detailed, readable and balanced
account which will fascinate students of nature.
With its uncanny night howls, unrivaled ingenuity, and
amazing resilience, the coyote is the stuff of legends. In
Indian folktales it often appears as a deceptive trickster
or a sly genius. But legends don’t come close to capturing
the incredible survival story of the coyote. As soon as
Americans—especially white Americans—began ranching and
herding in the West, they began working to destroy the
coyote. Despite campaigns of annihilation employing poisons,
gases, helicopters, and engineered epidemics, coyotes didn’t
just survive, they thrived, expanding across the continent
from Anchorage, Alaska, to New York’s Central Park. In the
war between humans and coyotes, coyotes have won hands-down.
Coyote America is both an environmental and a deep natural
history of the coyote. It traces both the
five-million-year-long biological story of an animal that
has become the “wolf” in our backyards, as well as its
cultural evolution from a preeminent spot in Native American
religions to the hapless foil of the Road Runner. A deeply
American tale, the story of the coyote in the American West
and beyond is a sort of Manifest Destiny in reverse, with a
pioneering hero whose career holds up an uncanny mirror to
the successes and failures of American expansionism.
An illuminating biography of this extraordinary animal,
Coyote America isn’t just the story of an animal’s
survival—it is one of the great epics of our time.