Messinger Woods Wildlife Care & Education Center, Inc.
South Vermont Hill Road, Holland, N.Y.

 Species Profile...The Coyote

by Michael R. Olek

One cold, rainy Sunday earlier this spring, I was home nursing a pounding sinus headache when our local dog warden called. "I hate to bother you Mike, but I've been wrestling with an emotional dilemma." He continued to explain that he had responded the day before to a call of 3 domestic puppies that someone apparently had dumped in a field. After arriving on location he found what appeared to be 3 German Shepherd puppies just barely old enough to crawl. He took them to the town veterinarian who informed him that they were not domestic pups, but baby coyotes. Our dog warden quickly contacted the D.E.C. and was told to return them where he had found them. He did as he was instructed.

"The reason I'm calling Mike, is that these pups are probably out there in that cold rain since yesterday, and I don't know if their mother will find them, or if she is even around." He went on to say that he couldn't even sleep, because he was so worried about them. Of course my response was, "Take me there!" He gave me directions and I met him on location. It seemed like we walked forever through the frigid rain. The site was so wet that the cold thick mud clung to our boots adding extra weight with each step. The area was an enormous, semi-flooded field with an occasional small rise covered in sparse scrub vegetation. We finally arrived at a point when he said, "This is where I left them, they're not here!" My first thought was, "Good, maybe Mom came and got them." That thought was immediately replaced by the dog warden's voice saying, "Oh-no here’s one, I think it's dead!" The pup was so drenched and covered with mud that it completely blended in with the ground, and looked as though someone had deliberately encased it with mud. I immediately picked up the literally frozen stiff little animal, peeled back my three layers of clothes and sandwiched it between my stomach and fabric. Body heat was the only available heat source. Within seconds, I could feel the slightest movement. "He's not dead!" I shouted as I visually scanned the area for its other siblings. Since time was crucial to save this one, and we could not quickly locate any of the others, I decided to take the one we had back to my house as quickly as possible. By the time I arrived home, the pup had become a bit squirmier and was vocalizing weakly.

While I attended to the pup, Noreen rounded up a Messinger Woods search and rescue crew. It was not long before our rescue team of six people, was searching the area for the others. Within 15 minutes, a young female was found. It was in slightly worse condition than the first, but still alive. It was towel dried on site and placed on body heat. A third was discovered under water in a flooded area. Due to the tendency of ice water delaying drowning, we retrieved it and attempted to revive it. The search continued while these two "mud puppies" were rushed back to my house. After hours of heat, warm I.V. fluid therapy, and vigorous massage, the first two dehydrated and hypothermic pups rallied nicely. Unfortunately, the one found under water could not be revived, and no others were found.

What ever had happened to their mother could not be confirmed. During the search, a den was discovered. Nearby some spent shotgun shells were also found, but that alone could not be conclusive of what had actually happened to her. One more search was launched on the following day with negative results. For the next several weeks, this young brother and sister team were cared for by me, Noreen, and other visiting Messinger Woods volunteers. Care included bottle feedings every two hours around the clock, and daily removal of ticks. Once the pups were weaned, it was decided that they be transferred to Elise Able, Director of Foxwood Wildlife and Rescue. Elise is also a member of Messinger Woods and specializes in the rehabilitation of Canids. She is an expert on fox and coyote and has a facility designed exclusively for their care.

We are happy to report that the coyote's "Poncho & Cisco", are doing veryMale and Female Coyotes well. After consultation with many experts, it was decided that they would be wintered over and released next spring in a carefully chosen remote area. There are probably some people who would find disfavor with our attempts to save them, since coyote are not everyone’s favorite species. As licensed wildlife rehabilitators, we provide this function without discrimination of species. Our web of life has a specific role or ecological niche for all indigenous life forms. All species are interrelated.

Coyote (Canis latrans) is admired by some and loathed by others. They are one of the more clever mammals of North America and are in the Canid, (dog) family. In the west, history documents mass attempts at their eradication. Only due to their intelligence have they rebounded and spread eastward. Today, NY State has an ever increasing healthy population of coyote. They can be found in rural, as well as some urban areas throughout NY State. They are very elusive, secretive, and for the most part, a harmless animal. DNA from some of our Western New York coyotes indicates that at some point they may have bred with Algonquin wolves. This might explain the larger size of our coyotes from those of out west. According to studies done on fecal droppings and stomach contents, the majority of their diets consist of small rodents and other small mammals and birds. Mainly, they eat mice, voles, moles, and rabbits. They also eat vegetation, fruit and insects. They will occasionally feed on deer. Most often they will feed on deer carcasses resulting from car accidents, or hunter-shot deer.

It is speculated that the growth in the coyote population may be nature's way of reintroducing a natural predator. This would control our ever increasing deer population, which is obvious through the increased vehicle/deer collisions. Wolves were once the natural predators of deer. Since eradication and booming development have all but eliminated the wolf from its natural ranges, deer have had no natural enemies to keep their numbers under control. Human management systems are no match for natural predators. A big concern of the general public, is, will coyotes eat domestic animals, livestock, or carry off little children? According to the August 2000 issue of the New York State Conservationist magazine, there are some documented accounts of coyote in New York conflicting with small or young livestock, and domestic pets. During the January through May denning season they can exhibit territorial aggression toward domestic dogs. The article also suggests that domestic cats could become a potential prey species.

As for attacks on people? There can never be any guarantees with any animals, wild or otherwise. The fact is though, that there are far more human attacks documented from domestic dogs than wildlife overall. I have some experience rehabilitating injured adult coyotes. What I witnessed each time I entered the compound was a beautiful, timid animal cowering in a corner. I never saw an aggressive display or threatening demeanor. Anyone wishing to learn more about this species need only visit their local library for books and videos, or surf the internet. There is a vast resource of information available on this frequently researched species. Whatever your opinion may be, I feel that coyotes are a handsome and cunning animal. They are a surviving species that play an important role in our ecosystems and strike a chord in the hearts and minds of we humans. To many of us, they are a part of that mystique of the wilderness. The fact that our natural world can be as close as our own backyards, is no fault of the coyote or any other species. It is merely a result of our ever-expanding urbanization.

© Copyright 2000 Messinger Woods Wildlife Care & Education Center, Inc.

This species profile is copyrighted and may only be reprinted with the express permission of Messinger Woods Wildlife Care & Education Center, Inc.

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Wildlife Care & Education Center, Inc.
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