Coyote history: threat, pest, enhancement?

Coyotes made the front page again. In recent years it’s been my impression that they are not as newsworthy as they once were.

Last week a 3-year old girl was bitten at Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown. She was taken to the hospital but is OK. The coyote was shot by a ranger and was determined not to have had rabies, sparing the little girl a painful treatment.

A big point of the story was that in a sense what caused the girl to be bitten was other members of her own species, who have become too friendly with the wild dogs and have fed them, making them aggressive. Officials warned the public not to feed wildlife.

Of course this rare occurrence couldn’t have happened 35 years ago because there were no coyotes on Cape Cod then. It is our human reaction to coyotes deciding to extend their range across the canal that is responsible for the little girl’s bite and the coyote’s death.

Actually, that 35 years is a guess. It was about 25 years ago that stories began to appear in the paper about the advent of coyotes. They made news in the early 1990s simply for being here.

Coyotes here? Really? Those features of the Wild West that easterners knew about mostly from cowboy movies (cowpokes hunkered down around the campfire, coyote howling from a distant ridge) nosing around in our garbage in the long-tamed East?

It seemed to me sort of inappropriate, a confusion of imagery or symbolism.

Turned out they were an Eastern species, actually, scrawny as they looked, bigger than their western counterparts, some wolf mixed in.

Their decision to share territory with us was not greeted with unalloyed enthusiasm.

There was a story about a dog officer who said she was attacked by was sure was a coyote and not a dog (although had the time nobody had a very finely honed sense of the difference). Another story about a Truro man feeling threatened to the point of shooting one. A woman taking a baseball bat to a coyote that had her husband by the arm (he had been trying to protect her).

Whole neighborhoods were at one point emptied of their cats. Small dogs were taken off porches

Later in the 90s there was an LTE from or a story about a Harwich woman angry at watching a coyote skulk by eyeing her toddler with what seemed to her a distinctly appraising attitude. She would be keeping her kid in the house and didn’t like being deprived of the use of her own yard. Don’t try to tell her that there was a rule in the coyote playbook against eating humans, at least not small ones.

Coyotes were at the time an issue. There was a spirited debate in the letters department about what attitude we should take toward these interlopers.: were coyotes a threat? A pest? Or an enchancement to quality of life in this nature-loving region?

Coyotes were a moral touchstone. It was love of wildlife vs. love of one’s pet, that bit of domesticated wildlife.

Even if they were a threat, don’t we have the responsibility as a morally advanced species to see things from their point of view?

The coyote lobby would always be quoted explaining that coyotes were no danger to humans and in any case, didn’t they have as much right to be here as we did?

That question had come to be a rhetorical one by the late 20th century. Earlier in Cape Cod history if anyone had actually posed that question the prevailing answer would have been “No, of course not, what a ridiculous notion. Civilized life starts with killing off all the threatening animals to make the area safe for ourselves.”

But by the time the vanguard coyotes showed up again in the 1980s (swimming? Marching single file across the bridge on a moonless night?) they had no doubt read in the “Wild Things Newsletter” that Cape Codders were not only no longer shooting large animals but had developed a romantic attachment to them.

And that complete turnaround has, to judge by the decline in media coverage, apparently won the day..We have, although there’s been no official treaty that I’m aware of, agreed over these years to share territory with coyotes. At the very least to tolerate them as we have all along other wild animals such as racoons.

Despite the Ptown encounters, Coyotes, have not for quite some time been an issue. We have decided that they are more enhancement than threat.

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