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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Coyote Grief?

West of Tortugas heading southwest
This morning Becca and I followed the yipping and crying of a Coyote into the area west of Tortugas Mountain I call the "outback."  We heard this same wailing yesterday, and though we hiked in the direction of the sound we never saw the animal making it.  I could tell as we tracked the critter today that we would eventually encounter it because the sound grew significantly louder as we approached.  While we dropped into the lower desert west of the mountain I began to worry about what I would do if we came upon an injured animal, one, perhaps, whose leg was caught in a trap left by some miscreant intending to do damage to wildlife.  How close could I get to a wild Canis latrans in pain?  If its leg was clamped could I throw my shirt over its head while I struggled to dislodge the trap?  My imagination ran wild as I considered the danger.  After all, even a pet dog will bite its owner if it's trapped in a Coyote leg clamp.  Fortunately I didn't have to deal with the situation I had conjured up.  As we began bushwhacking off the trail I saw the Coyote up on a ridge line, and I could tell that it seemed unencumbered and quite healthy.  It was already aware of our presence, and it kept a wary eye on us as we neared.

The animal was obviously distressed, looking this way and that for a missing something (mate, companion, offspring), all the while continuing with the whining and yipping.  I had the distinct impression that it was grieving, in psychological pain over a significant loss.  There are those who will accuse me of anthropomorphic thinking in assigning emotions to animals, but I've been fortunate enough to have had several canine companions, and I can say without reservation that they do have feelings.  Why wouldn't Coyotes be endowed with emotion?  After I got sidetracked momentarily taking photos of some Barrel Cactus specimens alongside a large arroyo, Becca and I tried to sneak closer to the Coyote.  Our maneuver prompted the animal to leave.  We didn't see it again, but on the inbound leg of our trek we heard its mournful wailing.

When I got home and inspected the long-distance photos I'd taken of the Coyote I realized it seemed rather young, and I recall reading that oftentimes a young trickster (1 or 2 years old) will be kicked out of the family unit and left to pursue life on its own.  Is it possible that the emotion I identified as "grief" was actually "loneliness," and the yelps and cries were simply pleas for companionship?
Becca pauses to see who's up on the mountain

The distressed Coyote we tracked this morning
It's definitely searching for something

From a distance it looks to be pretty young

Tortugas Mountain (left) and the Organ Mountains

Well aware of our presence

There's no sneaking up on a Coyote

One last look before moving on

Quite a distance from any beaten track

There were large Barrel Cacti everywhere in this section of the "outback"

Spiky blossoms

Ring of flora

Loaded with blossoms and buds

Large Barrel Cacti in the outback

Large arroyo (aka "dry wash") west of Tortugas

Shrunken head?

No shrunken head, but the top of a fallen, decaying yucca

Heading back in

Muppet character?

No--headless Yucca stumps


Scott said...

Many years ago, a careless farmer mowing our fields mowed-up a group of turkey poults. The hen, which survived, clearly was grieving after the incident. A coyote could certainly grieve (even if this particular situation was a case of being expelled).

Dr. K said...

I'm glad the coyote wasn't injured. I'm sure you're right, Packrat, that it was grieving over something.

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