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Coyotes survive suburbanization of San Diego

San Elijo Lagoon, Cottonwood Golf Course, Mt. Laguna

Coyote skull - Image by Robert Burroughs
Coyote skull

Coyote was lying in bed watching the moon come up over the freeway, wondering what he would have for dinner. For the past few weeks he’d been living in a canyon overlooking the San Elijo lagoon. It was a nice neighborhood — quiet, with an ocean view, and he’d settled comfortably into an abandoned shopping cart nestled under a pile of last year’s Christmas trees, where he spent most of his time waiting for the affluence of the neighborhood to filter down to him. And he usually didn’t have to wait long.

Coyote Illustration

He heard a rumble from the cliffs behind him and he stepped out of bed to watch the latest delivery come tumbling down the gully and roll to a stop at his feet. He poked and sniffed through it, gobbling down anything that looked good to him — a bag of rotten tomatoes, four shiny AAA batteries, half a Big Mac and the styrofoam box it came in. But most of it was just garbage.

Well, he thought, this might be a good night to go out for dinner, and he started down the old trail to the lagoon. Across the canyon, some restless bitch was howling for affection, and as Coyote stopped at the water’s edge to admire his reflection in the moonlight, he yip-yapped back, just to keep her interested while he was gone.

He broke into a lope as he followed the muddy shoreline. Under the freeway he stopped to nibble on a cigarette butt; he couldn’t resist the ones with lipstick on them. A little farther along the shoreline he stopped to smell the night air, and he knew then that what he was looking for was on the cliffs above. He began working this way through the scraggly brush, full of ticks and rattlesnakes and other insults, and he promised himself that he’d take an easier route back home.

When he finally broke out onto the wide, well-lighted streets of Lomas Santa Fe, he stopped to catch his breath, and as he sat under a street light he grinned at what he saw around him: nothing moved except the flicker of TVs behind curtained windows.

Coyote wandered through the neighborhood, over fences, through shrubs, across streets and backyards. At every corner he stopped to look at t the street signs — Santa Inez, Santa Florita, Santa Paula. He had a brief craving for Mexican food, but he resisted the urge and went on with his original plan. He was climbing up a ravine covered with ice plant when he finally found what he was searching for. There in front of him was an exceptionally fat house cat swatting at a moth in the moonlight.

Cats had always been a curiosity. The ancient enemy didn’t act like an ; enemy. It showed no fear, threatened no danger, and instead of having the odor of a meat eater, it had the bland smell of milk and wheat.

He moved a little closer, thinking the cat would probably shy away, but it turned its back on him snobbishly, as if he weren’t there, and went on with its play. Coyote pounced on the cat and crushed its skull with one bite. He had finished eating everything but the tail when the yard lights came on. As he left, somebody was calling, “Kitty kitty kitty.’’

He wasn’t going to fight the brush and rattlesnakes all the way back, not on a full stomach. So he just took the freeway home.

Helen Cappellanti’s seal point Siamese was no working cat. “Mit Su wasn’t one of those cats you keep around to hunt mice,’’ she says. “She was a house cat. All she knew was that this was her home.” The cat had spent all its life in the company of people, took its meals indoors, and never went outside alone. It had been spayed, eliminating its only possible need to associate with other animals. “We have a swing in the backyard, and when I sat in the swing, Mit Su would jump up on my lap and swing with me,” Cappellanti says. “She was like a member of the family.’’

The Cappellantis had read in the September newsletter of the Lomas Santa Fe Homeowners’ Association that coyotes had been spotted in the neighborhood. “Homeowners should be particularly careful about not leaving any pet food, or pet food containers, on patios or in yards, because the odor could act as a lure to these wild animals,’’ it had read. Cats, it seems, had been disappearing in the area for some time. “One woman over on Santa Dominga has lost three,” Cappellanti says.

One evening when the Cappellantis returned home, Mit Su darted out of the house the moment they opened the door, and was gone. “She never acts like that. I think she knew something was out there.” The Cappellantis turned on the lights in the yard and called for the cat, but it was nowhere in sight. Unable to sleep, Helen Cappellanti got up three times during the night to look for her cat, but it was gone.

The following morning Cappellanti walked the ravine below her yard. “On the way back up to my house, in my own backyard, I found a two-inch snip of her beautiful brown tail. There was lots of fur around and you could see there had been a scuffle. I know that thing got her the minute she went outside. I know it. That thing came up the ravine, into the yard, and got her!

“They are here,” Cappellanti says angrily. “They are around us. I’ve seen them myself. They don’t run and hide. They’ve been spotted in the parking lot at the Torrey Pines Bank. They’re at the Lomas Santa Fe golf course. I know a man who won’t go out there at night without his golf clubs — for protection. They aren’t afraid. If I happened to go out in the dark and startled one, it would attack me. I’m sure of it.”

Cappellanti called the San Diego County Animal Control office to see what could be done. “I suggested they trap and relocate them in the backcountry. They told me that was too expensive. But there has to be some kind of protection. We live in a civilized society. I told them those things don’t belong where people live. We are not a rural county anymore. I live in a lovely area of expensive homes. It is my home, my yard, my pet. I don’t care if they need to bring in a police posse to shoot them, or whatever it takes. They do not belong here, and anybody who has had my experience would feel the same way.”

In spite of the urgency of Helen Cappellanti’s concern, coyotes for some time have been making encroachments on what man has thought to be his exclusive territory. In 1883 the San Diego Union reported: “Coyotes are very bold and troublesome the present season, visiting poultry yards in broad daylight and committing their depredations with unusual audacity.”

Again in 1899 the Union reported: “Coyotes are getting quite bolder near Spring Valley. The other day one attacked the youngest child of William Fisher, and being driven away, was content with carrying off a valuable yard dog belonging to Sm. Tappenbeck.”

After farmers began complaining that coyotes were killing their sheep, goats, and calves, a bounty program was begun in the county. Hunters were paid five dollars for every coyote scalp which had the nose and both ears attached. This later became a statewide program in which the state shared the costs with the counties, and in 1894, nearly a decade after the bounty system had been in effect, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that there had been 38,000 coyotes taken in California in the previous two years. Before long, however, the state controller refused to pay the bounty hunters on the grounds that coyote scalps were being brought in from Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada to collect the California bounty.

Exhibit: San Diego Natural History Museum

After the state’s farmers, who had asked for the bounty program initially, began complaining of an alarming increase in rabbits and other rodents, which they said did more damage than the coyotes, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began a more selective trapping program in which only those coyotes proven to be livestock killers were taken. This program continued with some success for several years.

The coyote has survived San Diego County’s rapid transformation from a rural to an urban environment, while many other native animals, such as the deer, mountain lion, and bobcat, have not. Biologists who have studied coyotes cite three qualities which have contributed to their success: intelligence, the ability to adapt to change, and the ability to eat almost anything. At least two of these are qualities that humans generally admire, and perhaps that explains the fascination with the coyote in our folklore. Indian tales from California are full of the daring exploits of the mythological trickster, Coyote. In one story, he invites a flock of ducks to his own funeral, only to arise and devour them. In another. Coyote makes the first cohabitation with women possible by cleverly removing teeth from their vaginas. Mexican folklore declares that “the coyote is the smartest person next to God.”

Even today nearly everyone seems to have a story about an unlikely encounter with a coyote. A woman in Leucadia tells about the time she walked out onto the sundeck of her new condominium to find a coyote standing there with a live rattlesnake in its mouth.

A La Mesa woman who kept her sliding glass door open while she slept, so her pet poodle could come and go freely during the night, awoke one morning to find a coyote at the foot of her bed staring calmly back at her. She had to throw all her pillows at it before it would leave.

A golfer at Singing Hills Country Club, after teeing off, watched his ball land near the edge of the fairway; but before it stopped rolling, a coyote ran from the bushes, snatched it up, and made off with it. If you can imagine his confusion as he wondered how to score that one, imagine the confusion of the coyote, who no doubt thought he had pounced on a white mouse.

An avocado grower near Escondido claims he watched a coyote leap into the lowest branches of a tree, then walk out onto the limbs to steal the ripest avocados.

At Cottonwood Golf Course two golfers riding a cart to the next hole looked back to see that they were being chased by a pack of coyotes. The coyotes, which probably thought they had some kind of large and clumsy beast on the run, followed for some ways before realizing their error.

At the Jamul Egg Ranch, coyotes found they were unable to get at the hens inside their cages, so the coyotes amused themselves by chewing off the hens’ feet as they poked through the wire mesh. In this manner they ruined ninety-four chickens in one night.

A trapper working the Laguna Mountain area returned to find his trap had been sprung by a wary coyote with a sense of humor. Before the coyote left, it had defecated on top of the trap.

Recent news coverage has centered on coyote attacks on humans in Los Angeles and Orange counties, but documented cases of coyotes attacking humans in the San Diego region are very rare. In the early Sixties, a person was bitten while feeding coyotes in Anza Borrego — apparently the person offered the food, then withdrew it; and in 1982, a gardener in Rancho Santa Fe was nipped by a coyote pup which he had been trying to catch. And that is all. In contrast, in 1982 there were 3401 reported cases of dogs biting humans in the county, a record which apparently has not affected their reputation as man’s best friend. Even the docile cat made 441 attacks that year.

Much of the fear humans have for coyotes has to do with the belief that they may be rabid. In San Diego County, this is currently not a necessary concern. In the early Sixties there was an outbreak of rabies among dogs in Mexico. The disease was carried across the border into San Diego, but through a quarantine and vaccines, the epidemic was confined to the South Bay. Then it suddenly broke out among foxes in the Cuyamaca Mountains east of San Diego. Sixty cases were reported in one year, and the epidemic soon spread to bobcats and coyotes as well. In 1969 a two-and-a-half-year-old Lakeside boy was bitten by a rabid bobcat and later died. Fearing that the epidemic would spread into the Riverside area, San Diego County began a trapping program to eliminate all predators in a band several miles wide from the desert to the ocean. This effort was successful, and the epidemic never spread farther north than Julian. Since then, there has been only one case of rabies among terrestrial mammals in the county — a rabid skunk in Rancho Bernardo. Although there are known to be rabid bats in the county, it is apparently not possible for them to spread rabies to other mammals. Also, the treatment for rabies has improved greatly since the fatality in 1969, and it is unlikely that the boy would have died had he benefited from the current treatment.

While the trapping program to control rabies was at its peak, hundreds of coyotes were taken and there was concern among some wildlife lovers that this would have a permanent effect on their population in the county. Hubert Johnstone, the county’s veterinarian, disagreed. “Because of the animal’s breeding habits, I’m convinced that no trapping program could possibly reduce coyote populations to the point where the animal is endangered.” Like some other animals, the coyote has the ability to increase its litter size to respond to a high mortality rate. A bitch producing litters with two pups could begin producing litters with eight or ten. (Indian women who gave birth to twins had to tolerate teasings that they had slept with the virile Coyote, who always produced multiple births.) Nobody is certain how this quality of the coyote works, but is nevertheless well documented. The more coyotes you kill, the more coyotes you get, and the death of any one coyote only increases the chances of survival for many other coyotes.

Still, there were many objections to the county’s trapping program. An organization calling itself CAST — Citizens Against Steel Traps — objected to the use of steel-jawed traps, citing the many instances in which an animal had chewed off its own leg to free itself from the trap. And the Humane Society complained that it was cruel to trap and kill all predators when only a few of them carried rabies. In 1970 the board of supervisors, caught in a peculiar dilemma, finally voted to eliminate all trapping programs operated by the county. Then officials of the state department of fish and game, feeling that the pressure had been put on them, discontinued their trapping program as well, citing budget problems and lack of legal authority.

Fletcher Diehl

At present there is no government agency in San Diego County that traps or kills coyotes, though it is perfectly legal for private citizens to hunt or trap them. In fact, a hunting license is not even necessary as long as individuals can demonstrate that the coyotes posed a threat to property. But most people who have had coyote problems, people like Helen Cappellanti, are unlikely to buy a gun and start shooting. They still take their problems to the county animal control office, which most often refers them to the Southern California Predator Callers Association and to a man named Fletcher Diehl.

Coyote stood on the grass of the Lomas Santa Fe golf course watching the automatic sprinklers click-clack back and forth. They fascinated him, and even though he’d learned a long time ago that they were mostly inedible, he still loved to watch them.

Just after dusk Coyote had filled his belly on the fat cottontails that swarmed the golf course every evening, and now he had nothing better to do than loaf around looking for a good time. After the sprinklers shut off, he wandered over to the parking lot and stood under the street lamps. Just to pass the time, he ate a few snails which were crawling across the wet pavement.

Before long the door to the pro shop swung open and the small, unsteady figure of a man wobbled onto the parking lot. The man, who was dressed in pink slacks and yellow golf shoes and was slightly inebriated, reminded Coyote of a baby just learning to walk, and out of curiosity, he moved in for a closer look.

At first the man didn’t see Coyote, but when he realized what was stalking him across the parking lot, he stopped and tried desperately to focus on him. Coyote heard a slight whimper from the man, and even from a distance he could smell fear all over him. When the man turned and began running toward his car, Coyote ran after him. He didn’t know why, it just looked like fun. The man stumbled and fell on the pavement, tearing holes in the knees of his slacks. He crawled frantically before regaining his feet and staggering on to his car. He fumbled through his pockets for his keys but they weren’t there. Looking through the window, he saw that he’d left them in the ignition. He looked over his shoulder and saw the wild animal sneering at him, yellow teeth glistening. He smashed the wind wing out with his fist and dove into the safety of his car.

Coyote sat on the pavement as the man squealed out of the parking lot in a haze of burning rubber. His tongue lolled out and his eyelids drooped as he savored the moment. Then he went back and waited for another one to come out.

If you wanted to know, Fletcher Diehl could tell you about every one of the hundreds of coyotes he has killed in the last ten years — its age, sex, and weight. “My wife gets mad at me because I can’t remember our anniversary,’’ he whispers. “I tell her the only way I could do that would be to shoot her on that day. Then I’d never forget.’’

Diehl is kneeling behind a cluster of rocks on a brush-covered hillside southeast of Escondido. The sun has just come up over the avocado orchards and there’s a slight breeze blowing in his face. “The wind’s working for us,’’ he says quietly. “Without the wind, the coyotes wouldn’t be moving.’’ He slips a camouflaged hood over his head to match his camouflaged jumpsuit, gloves, and rifle. The colors blend in perfectly with the surrounding countryside of sage and mesquite. “I should have told you not to use any scented soaps. A little thing like that could make the difference. Maybe I’ve got some quail scent here for you.’’

After he’s set behind his blind, he takes from his pocket a collection of animal-distress calls, which are about the size and shape of a kazoo. He shuffles through them nervously, trying to select the right one. He studies the landscape one last time, takes a deep breath, lifts the call to his mouth, and blows. “Eiiii! Eiiii! Eiiii!’’ It’s a pitiful sound, the cry of a rabbit caught in the claws of a hawk. The animal squeals and shrieks as though it’s having its bowels tom out. It pauses, then screams again. “Eiiii!’’

Diehl picking up a dead coyote

“You gotta put hurt into it,’’ Diehl sighs, catching his breath. “Sometimes it even makes me wanna cry.’’ He selects another call. “I start with the high-pitch calls that carry,’’ he explains in hushed tones. “A coyote can hear them from two miles away. Then I switch to the high-volume calls, and they can pinpoint them to within a tenth of a mile.’’ He inhales again and blows. “Ar! Ar! Ar! ’’ It’s the sound of a puppy just hit by a car. The poor creature sounds as if it’s had its life crushed, and the sound wails and sobs off weakly. Two large crows come flapping slowly around the side of the mountain, and Diehl nods toward them. “That’s good,” he smiles. “They’re looking for the free meal, too.”

He selects another call. “Clack! Clack! Clack!” This time it’s a startled bird, maybe a duck. Suddenly the bird is attacked. “Crawk! Crawk!”

“There!” Diehl cries. ‘”Did you see him? Moving up the road. Now we’re gonna work him.”

He shuffles through the calls again, selecting the wounded puppy. The awful sound wails across the hillside again and again. Sparrows in the brush below flutter nervously, then flit from bush to bush. Then he appears, standing maybe 200 feet away, dark and small, head high, ears straight, listening and looking.

Diehl raises his .22-250 rifle, rests it on the rocks, and fires. He waits a few moments to see if any other coyotes will appear. When none do, he pulls off the hood and goes down to inspect the kill. “Look here,” he says, pointing at the bullet hole, which seems to pass through the heart. “You can’t tell me that’s cruel. It was over before he knew what happened.” He flops the dead coyote onto its back. “She,” he says, correcting himself. “Last year’s bitch. Maybe thirty pounds. Not in heat yet, or she’d have teats. ” He takes a stick and pokes at the scat oozing from the animal’s anus. “Grape seeds. Avocado skins. We got the guilty one.”

Getting the guilty one is what Diehl calls “the program,” and it is the goal of the Southern California Predator Callers Association, of which he is the director and most avid member. Diehl is on vacation from his job as serviceman for SDG&E, where he has worked for twenty-seven years, and, as usual, he has set aside most of the free time to work on the program.

He ties the animal’s legs together and hoists it onto his back. “Avocados are their most common food out here,” Diehl says, stopping to roll over an avocado with the toe of his boot to show how a coyote has been chewing on it. “If I could ever develop a call like ah avocado, I’d be a millionaire.”

Diehl usually doesn’t take money for working on the program but now and then a farmer will offer some kind of compensation. When Diehl gets back to his truck, the owner of the orchard is waiting there with a lug of grapes and a box of oranges. “I only heard one shot,” the man smiles.

Diehl sets the coyote down. “People: one. Coyotes: zero.”

The man shrugs and shakes his head. “New ones just seem to replace them fast as you can kill them.”

“Maybe I need to step up the program.”

“No complaints about the program. I’m just saying we got coyotes.” Diehl nods. He’s already taken twenty-five coyotes from this place. He loads the farmer’s fruit into the back of his four-wheel-drive pickup, which has a bumper sticker on the back that says, “Be Kind To Plants. Don’t Eat Them.” As the fanner leaves, he says, “I want to pay you for your gas,” and he hands Diehl a ten-dollar bill.

Driving out of the orchard, Diehl says, “He’s usually pretty good about remembering things like that. Some of these guys, I come out to do them a favor and it ends up costing me money. They may lose a thousand bucks to one coyote, but they balk at paying ten dollars for gas.”

It’s an overcast day, still dark even at eight o’clock, and Diehl thinks the coyotes might still be moving. He drives to another orchard in Valley Center and parks on a hillside overlooking the avocado trees. “This fellow lost $9000 in plastic pipe,” he says. “Chewed up by coyotes.” He points to a distant ridge, open and undeveloped. “That’s all government land over there. It’s a big area. Look around, coyotes got everything they need here.” San Diego County is perfect territory for coyotes, he explains, for exactly the same reasons it’s perfect for humans: lack of extreme heat in the summer, mild winters, and an abundance of food.

“There may very well be more coyotes per square mile in San Diego County than anywhere else in this country,” he speculates. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gives several estimates for coyote populations in various types of habitats, but these statistics are notoriously inaccurate, and applying them to an urban area is almost impossible. Nobody knows how many coyotes are in San Diego, but all sources agree they are thriving. “The coyote population in San Diego is growing,” Diehl says, “because their only limit is food. The natural checks and balances are not in operation, and as long as man keeps feeding them their cats and dogs they are going to continue to increase.”

Coyotes are territorial, and will generally cover an area about seven miles in diameter, Diehl explains. But if there is enough food, several coyotes will work in overlapping territories. “There are so many coyotes in San Diego that they work in shifts, night and day, with the dominant males claiming the best areas at the best times.” Also, he says, coyotes will work in packs, or alone, depending upon their prey. They are adaptable to this, while their cousin, the wolf, is not. This may be why the wolf has been nearly eliminated by man. Because wolves pack together, it is just as easy to kill all of them as it is to kill one of them. When coyotes pack together, they are also vulnerable to this, and Diehl claims to have killed as many as seven coyotes in one place.

When Diehl says that coyotes are thriving in San Diego, he makes it very clear that he doesn’t mean just in rural areas. Because of the many undeveloped canyons in central San Diego where they can take refuge, they are doing well there, too. “As recently as last March,” he says, “I’ve answered calls near Mercy Hospital, Seventh Avenue, Tenth Avenue [in Hillcrest]. Unlike most other animals, the coyote has been able to take advantage of urbanization and man’s destruction of environment. We have created an imbalance where a balance once existed, and the effect is that the coyote has prospered where other wildlife has not.

Calling through camouflage

“If the coyote and the elephant were the last two animals on earth,” Diehl continues, “I have no doubt that the coyote would figure out a way to kill the elephant and eat it.”

While on the subject of what a coyote will eat, Diehl begins naming all the things he has found in coyotes’ stomachs: “Watermelon, tomatoes, rats, mice, grasshoppers, bees, watercress, carrots, chilis, bones, teeth, egg shells, fish, chokecherries, pyracantha berries, persimmons, uncured olives, cigarettes, squash . . . Then there’s your apples, cactus, quail, duck, squirrel, mud hens, and geese. Did I say golf balls? Jerusalem crickets, plastic pipe, cloth, string, flea collars, shoe leather, feathers, dachshunds, schnauzers, snakes, gourds, lizards ... Ah, hell,” he says, finally giving up, “they’ll eat anything. The coyote is the laziest animal that walks, and he’ll eat the easiest thing he can find. And if he doesn’t eat it, he ’ll breed it. ” Diehl walks a few hundred feet from the truck, crouches in a blind, and tries his calls. After ten minutes, no coyotes appear. “They’re shy here,’’ he says. “Been shot at too many times.’’ He stands up slowly, looking around him. “Never know,” he says, “might bring in a bobcat, mountain lion.” The distress calls he uses can work on any kind of predator, though he claims he’s also called in joggers and meditators. “One time, on a job at Camp Pendleton, a Marine heard me calling. He went back to the base MPs and told them somebody was out there murdering babies.’’

Driving away from the orchard, Diehl keeps one hand resting on his rifle, as though he might use it at any moment. “Woman up there raised Japanese game hens,” he says, pointing to a house on a hill. “She and her husband retired out here just so they could raise these beautiful show birds. Coyotes wiped them out.” Diehl eliminated the coyotes, but as he says, “It was more revengeful than preventative. The damage had already been done.”

Diehl stops at a coffee shop for breakfast, and as he walks in the door, the people smile at him. Dressed in his camouflage gear, he looks as if he has spent the morning invading some Latin American country. “How would you like your eggs?” the waitress asks.

“Gut shot,” he replies.

She looks around nervously, wondering if maybe she should call the police. “I’m afraid I don’t know what that means,’ ’ she says, trying to smile.

“Scrambled,’’ Diehl laughs, translating from the hunter lingo.

As he eats his steak and eggs, he talks about the Southern California Predator Callers Association. “We limit the club to twenty-five members. There’s a long waiting list, but we like to keep it small because there’s trouble in numbers.” Since the club answers so many calls in urban areas, the members have to consider their liability if someone were to be injured, or property damaged by an errant shot. For that reason Diehl says, the club is insured by Lloyd’s of London for $25 million. “We can’t make any mistakes. Our members have got to know when to shoot and when not to shoot. We don’t take any screwups. We’re performing a service to the public and we have to act accordingly.” The goal of his club, he says, is “the conservation of wildlife through the control of predators. I don’t hate coyotes. I respect them. I wouldn’t want to eliminate all of them, and there would be no point in eliminating all of them. But by controlling them, I think I’m doing them a favor.”

Diehl admits that he doesn’t have much use for people who don’t sympathize with the program. “Pseudoecologists,” he growls. “Most people, if they know anything about animals, they learned it on TV. Cartoons. Disneyland. How many people really take the time to go out and observe nature? How many people have seen coyotes preying on a cow giving birth? The calf is dead before it hits the ground. Then the coyote goes for the afterbirth, and when he’s done with that, he chews on the cow’s udders until she bleeds to death. Now, that’s the kind of thing you’ll never see on Disneyland, because it’s gross and because they can’t make any money showing people that. Nature is the most brutal killer of all. People don’t want to know that, but that is reality.”

Coyote was trying to sleep off a wild night on the town when he was awakened by the sound of pounding in the canyon below. He looked out of his doorway and saw two men driving survey stakes into the ground. He watched the men work for a while, then dozed off again. The sight of work always bored him.

Coyote didn’t object to a new subdivision in the neighborhood. He was no pseudo-ecologist. In fact, as he slept he dreamed of all the new houses with bowls of cat food on their back porches. In his dream, he went around to each house and ate the cat food, then he went back and ate the cats.

That evening, when the pounding finally stopped and the men went home, Coyote went down to inspect their work. The area had been divided into neat parcels and every parcel was marked by four orange stakes. Coyote went around and lifted his leg on each of the stakes, just so the men wouldn’t forget whose neighborhood this really was.

After Coyote had finished surveying the subdivision, he felt hungry and thought maybe he’d go over to the freeway and wait for a take-out order. As he started toward the lagoon he heard an eerie sound below him. It was a shrieking, weeping, squalling kind of sound, and though he wasn’t sure, he thought it might be a rabbit in trouble. His blood quickened and he hurried toward the easy meal.

Just as Coyote entered the clearing at the water’s edge, a shot rang out, echoing off the canyon walls. A patch of fur flew off his back, and the impact of the bullet lifted him in the air and spun him around in a circle. He hit the ground running and didn’t stop until he got home.

As he licked the blood from his wound, just beneath his skin he found the small lead bullet. He squeezed it between his teeth and found that it was soft and chewable. So he ate it.

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Coyote skull - Image by Robert Burroughs
Coyote skull

Coyote was lying in bed watching the moon come up over the freeway, wondering what he would have for dinner. For the past few weeks he’d been living in a canyon overlooking the San Elijo lagoon. It was a nice neighborhood — quiet, with an ocean view, and he’d settled comfortably into an abandoned shopping cart nestled under a pile of last year’s Christmas trees, where he spent most of his time waiting for the affluence of the neighborhood to filter down to him. And he usually didn’t have to wait long.

Coyote Illustration

He heard a rumble from the cliffs behind him and he stepped out of bed to watch the latest delivery come tumbling down the gully and roll to a stop at his feet. He poked and sniffed through it, gobbling down anything that looked good to him — a bag of rotten tomatoes, four shiny AAA batteries, half a Big Mac and the styrofoam box it came in. But most of it was just garbage.

Well, he thought, this might be a good night to go out for dinner, and he started down the old trail to the lagoon. Across the canyon, some restless bitch was howling for affection, and as Coyote stopped at the water’s edge to admire his reflection in the moonlight, he yip-yapped back, just to keep her interested while he was gone.

He broke into a lope as he followed the muddy shoreline. Under the freeway he stopped to nibble on a cigarette butt; he couldn’t resist the ones with lipstick on them. A little farther along the shoreline he stopped to smell the night air, and he knew then that what he was looking for was on the cliffs above. He began working this way through the scraggly brush, full of ticks and rattlesnakes and other insults, and he promised himself that he’d take an easier route back home.

When he finally broke out onto the wide, well-lighted streets of Lomas Santa Fe, he stopped to catch his breath, and as he sat under a street light he grinned at what he saw around him: nothing moved except the flicker of TVs behind curtained windows.

Coyote wandered through the neighborhood, over fences, through shrubs, across streets and backyards. At every corner he stopped to look at t the street signs — Santa Inez, Santa Florita, Santa Paula. He had a brief craving for Mexican food, but he resisted the urge and went on with his original plan. He was climbing up a ravine covered with ice plant when he finally found what he was searching for. There in front of him was an exceptionally fat house cat swatting at a moth in the moonlight.

Cats had always been a curiosity. The ancient enemy didn’t act like an ; enemy. It showed no fear, threatened no danger, and instead of having the odor of a meat eater, it had the bland smell of milk and wheat.

He moved a little closer, thinking the cat would probably shy away, but it turned its back on him snobbishly, as if he weren’t there, and went on with its play. Coyote pounced on the cat and crushed its skull with one bite. He had finished eating everything but the tail when the yard lights came on. As he left, somebody was calling, “Kitty kitty kitty.’’

He wasn’t going to fight the brush and rattlesnakes all the way back, not on a full stomach. So he just took the freeway home.

Helen Cappellanti’s seal point Siamese was no working cat. “Mit Su wasn’t one of those cats you keep around to hunt mice,’’ she says. “She was a house cat. All she knew was that this was her home.” The cat had spent all its life in the company of people, took its meals indoors, and never went outside alone. It had been spayed, eliminating its only possible need to associate with other animals. “We have a swing in the backyard, and when I sat in the swing, Mit Su would jump up on my lap and swing with me,” Cappellanti says. “She was like a member of the family.’’

The Cappellantis had read in the September newsletter of the Lomas Santa Fe Homeowners’ Association that coyotes had been spotted in the neighborhood. “Homeowners should be particularly careful about not leaving any pet food, or pet food containers, on patios or in yards, because the odor could act as a lure to these wild animals,’’ it had read. Cats, it seems, had been disappearing in the area for some time. “One woman over on Santa Dominga has lost three,” Cappellanti says.

One evening when the Cappellantis returned home, Mit Su darted out of the house the moment they opened the door, and was gone. “She never acts like that. I think she knew something was out there.” The Cappellantis turned on the lights in the yard and called for the cat, but it was nowhere in sight. Unable to sleep, Helen Cappellanti got up three times during the night to look for her cat, but it was gone.

The following morning Cappellanti walked the ravine below her yard. “On the way back up to my house, in my own backyard, I found a two-inch snip of her beautiful brown tail. There was lots of fur around and you could see there had been a scuffle. I know that thing got her the minute she went outside. I know it. That thing came up the ravine, into the yard, and got her!

“They are here,” Cappellanti says angrily. “They are around us. I’ve seen them myself. They don’t run and hide. They’ve been spotted in the parking lot at the Torrey Pines Bank. They’re at the Lomas Santa Fe golf course. I know a man who won’t go out there at night without his golf clubs — for protection. They aren’t afraid. If I happened to go out in the dark and startled one, it would attack me. I’m sure of it.”

Cappellanti called the San Diego County Animal Control office to see what could be done. “I suggested they trap and relocate them in the backcountry. They told me that was too expensive. But there has to be some kind of protection. We live in a civilized society. I told them those things don’t belong where people live. We are not a rural county anymore. I live in a lovely area of expensive homes. It is my home, my yard, my pet. I don’t care if they need to bring in a police posse to shoot them, or whatever it takes. They do not belong here, and anybody who has had my experience would feel the same way.”

In spite of the urgency of Helen Cappellanti’s concern, coyotes for some time have been making encroachments on what man has thought to be his exclusive territory. In 1883 the San Diego Union reported: “Coyotes are very bold and troublesome the present season, visiting poultry yards in broad daylight and committing their depredations with unusual audacity.”

Again in 1899 the Union reported: “Coyotes are getting quite bolder near Spring Valley. The other day one attacked the youngest child of William Fisher, and being driven away, was content with carrying off a valuable yard dog belonging to Sm. Tappenbeck.”

After farmers began complaining that coyotes were killing their sheep, goats, and calves, a bounty program was begun in the county. Hunters were paid five dollars for every coyote scalp which had the nose and both ears attached. This later became a statewide program in which the state shared the costs with the counties, and in 1894, nearly a decade after the bounty system had been in effect, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that there had been 38,000 coyotes taken in California in the previous two years. Before long, however, the state controller refused to pay the bounty hunters on the grounds that coyote scalps were being brought in from Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada to collect the California bounty.

Exhibit: San Diego Natural History Museum

After the state’s farmers, who had asked for the bounty program initially, began complaining of an alarming increase in rabbits and other rodents, which they said did more damage than the coyotes, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began a more selective trapping program in which only those coyotes proven to be livestock killers were taken. This program continued with some success for several years.

The coyote has survived San Diego County’s rapid transformation from a rural to an urban environment, while many other native animals, such as the deer, mountain lion, and bobcat, have not. Biologists who have studied coyotes cite three qualities which have contributed to their success: intelligence, the ability to adapt to change, and the ability to eat almost anything. At least two of these are qualities that humans generally admire, and perhaps that explains the fascination with the coyote in our folklore. Indian tales from California are full of the daring exploits of the mythological trickster, Coyote. In one story, he invites a flock of ducks to his own funeral, only to arise and devour them. In another. Coyote makes the first cohabitation with women possible by cleverly removing teeth from their vaginas. Mexican folklore declares that “the coyote is the smartest person next to God.”

Even today nearly everyone seems to have a story about an unlikely encounter with a coyote. A woman in Leucadia tells about the time she walked out onto the sundeck of her new condominium to find a coyote standing there with a live rattlesnake in its mouth.

A La Mesa woman who kept her sliding glass door open while she slept, so her pet poodle could come and go freely during the night, awoke one morning to find a coyote at the foot of her bed staring calmly back at her. She had to throw all her pillows at it before it would leave.

A golfer at Singing Hills Country Club, after teeing off, watched his ball land near the edge of the fairway; but before it stopped rolling, a coyote ran from the bushes, snatched it up, and made off with it. If you can imagine his confusion as he wondered how to score that one, imagine the confusion of the coyote, who no doubt thought he had pounced on a white mouse.

An avocado grower near Escondido claims he watched a coyote leap into the lowest branches of a tree, then walk out onto the limbs to steal the ripest avocados.

At Cottonwood Golf Course two golfers riding a cart to the next hole looked back to see that they were being chased by a pack of coyotes. The coyotes, which probably thought they had some kind of large and clumsy beast on the run, followed for some ways before realizing their error.

At the Jamul Egg Ranch, coyotes found they were unable to get at the hens inside their cages, so the coyotes amused themselves by chewing off the hens’ feet as they poked through the wire mesh. In this manner they ruined ninety-four chickens in one night.

A trapper working the Laguna Mountain area returned to find his trap had been sprung by a wary coyote with a sense of humor. Before the coyote left, it had defecated on top of the trap.

Recent news coverage has centered on coyote attacks on humans in Los Angeles and Orange counties, but documented cases of coyotes attacking humans in the San Diego region are very rare. In the early Sixties, a person was bitten while feeding coyotes in Anza Borrego — apparently the person offered the food, then withdrew it; and in 1982, a gardener in Rancho Santa Fe was nipped by a coyote pup which he had been trying to catch. And that is all. In contrast, in 1982 there were 3401 reported cases of dogs biting humans in the county, a record which apparently has not affected their reputation as man’s best friend. Even the docile cat made 441 attacks that year.

Much of the fear humans have for coyotes has to do with the belief that they may be rabid. In San Diego County, this is currently not a necessary concern. In the early Sixties there was an outbreak of rabies among dogs in Mexico. The disease was carried across the border into San Diego, but through a quarantine and vaccines, the epidemic was confined to the South Bay. Then it suddenly broke out among foxes in the Cuyamaca Mountains east of San Diego. Sixty cases were reported in one year, and the epidemic soon spread to bobcats and coyotes as well. In 1969 a two-and-a-half-year-old Lakeside boy was bitten by a rabid bobcat and later died. Fearing that the epidemic would spread into the Riverside area, San Diego County began a trapping program to eliminate all predators in a band several miles wide from the desert to the ocean. This effort was successful, and the epidemic never spread farther north than Julian. Since then, there has been only one case of rabies among terrestrial mammals in the county — a rabid skunk in Rancho Bernardo. Although there are known to be rabid bats in the county, it is apparently not possible for them to spread rabies to other mammals. Also, the treatment for rabies has improved greatly since the fatality in 1969, and it is unlikely that the boy would have died had he benefited from the current treatment.

While the trapping program to control rabies was at its peak, hundreds of coyotes were taken and there was concern among some wildlife lovers that this would have a permanent effect on their population in the county. Hubert Johnstone, the county’s veterinarian, disagreed. “Because of the animal’s breeding habits, I’m convinced that no trapping program could possibly reduce coyote populations to the point where the animal is endangered.” Like some other animals, the coyote has the ability to increase its litter size to respond to a high mortality rate. A bitch producing litters with two pups could begin producing litters with eight or ten. (Indian women who gave birth to twins had to tolerate teasings that they had slept with the virile Coyote, who always produced multiple births.) Nobody is certain how this quality of the coyote works, but is nevertheless well documented. The more coyotes you kill, the more coyotes you get, and the death of any one coyote only increases the chances of survival for many other coyotes.

Still, there were many objections to the county’s trapping program. An organization calling itself CAST — Citizens Against Steel Traps — objected to the use of steel-jawed traps, citing the many instances in which an animal had chewed off its own leg to free itself from the trap. And the Humane Society complained that it was cruel to trap and kill all predators when only a few of them carried rabies. In 1970 the board of supervisors, caught in a peculiar dilemma, finally voted to eliminate all trapping programs operated by the county. Then officials of the state department of fish and game, feeling that the pressure had been put on them, discontinued their trapping program as well, citing budget problems and lack of legal authority.

Fletcher Diehl

At present there is no government agency in San Diego County that traps or kills coyotes, though it is perfectly legal for private citizens to hunt or trap them. In fact, a hunting license is not even necessary as long as individuals can demonstrate that the coyotes posed a threat to property. But most people who have had coyote problems, people like Helen Cappellanti, are unlikely to buy a gun and start shooting. They still take their problems to the county animal control office, which most often refers them to the Southern California Predator Callers Association and to a man named Fletcher Diehl.

Coyote stood on the grass of the Lomas Santa Fe golf course watching the automatic sprinklers click-clack back and forth. They fascinated him, and even though he’d learned a long time ago that they were mostly inedible, he still loved to watch them.

Just after dusk Coyote had filled his belly on the fat cottontails that swarmed the golf course every evening, and now he had nothing better to do than loaf around looking for a good time. After the sprinklers shut off, he wandered over to the parking lot and stood under the street lamps. Just to pass the time, he ate a few snails which were crawling across the wet pavement.

Before long the door to the pro shop swung open and the small, unsteady figure of a man wobbled onto the parking lot. The man, who was dressed in pink slacks and yellow golf shoes and was slightly inebriated, reminded Coyote of a baby just learning to walk, and out of curiosity, he moved in for a closer look.

At first the man didn’t see Coyote, but when he realized what was stalking him across the parking lot, he stopped and tried desperately to focus on him. Coyote heard a slight whimper from the man, and even from a distance he could smell fear all over him. When the man turned and began running toward his car, Coyote ran after him. He didn’t know why, it just looked like fun. The man stumbled and fell on the pavement, tearing holes in the knees of his slacks. He crawled frantically before regaining his feet and staggering on to his car. He fumbled through his pockets for his keys but they weren’t there. Looking through the window, he saw that he’d left them in the ignition. He looked over his shoulder and saw the wild animal sneering at him, yellow teeth glistening. He smashed the wind wing out with his fist and dove into the safety of his car.

Coyote sat on the pavement as the man squealed out of the parking lot in a haze of burning rubber. His tongue lolled out and his eyelids drooped as he savored the moment. Then he went back and waited for another one to come out.

If you wanted to know, Fletcher Diehl could tell you about every one of the hundreds of coyotes he has killed in the last ten years — its age, sex, and weight. “My wife gets mad at me because I can’t remember our anniversary,’’ he whispers. “I tell her the only way I could do that would be to shoot her on that day. Then I’d never forget.’’

Diehl is kneeling behind a cluster of rocks on a brush-covered hillside southeast of Escondido. The sun has just come up over the avocado orchards and there’s a slight breeze blowing in his face. “The wind’s working for us,’’ he says quietly. “Without the wind, the coyotes wouldn’t be moving.’’ He slips a camouflaged hood over his head to match his camouflaged jumpsuit, gloves, and rifle. The colors blend in perfectly with the surrounding countryside of sage and mesquite. “I should have told you not to use any scented soaps. A little thing like that could make the difference. Maybe I’ve got some quail scent here for you.’’

After he’s set behind his blind, he takes from his pocket a collection of animal-distress calls, which are about the size and shape of a kazoo. He shuffles through them nervously, trying to select the right one. He studies the landscape one last time, takes a deep breath, lifts the call to his mouth, and blows. “Eiiii! Eiiii! Eiiii!’’ It’s a pitiful sound, the cry of a rabbit caught in the claws of a hawk. The animal squeals and shrieks as though it’s having its bowels tom out. It pauses, then screams again. “Eiiii!’’

Diehl picking up a dead coyote

“You gotta put hurt into it,’’ Diehl sighs, catching his breath. “Sometimes it even makes me wanna cry.’’ He selects another call. “I start with the high-pitch calls that carry,’’ he explains in hushed tones. “A coyote can hear them from two miles away. Then I switch to the high-volume calls, and they can pinpoint them to within a tenth of a mile.’’ He inhales again and blows. “Ar! Ar! Ar! ’’ It’s the sound of a puppy just hit by a car. The poor creature sounds as if it’s had its life crushed, and the sound wails and sobs off weakly. Two large crows come flapping slowly around the side of the mountain, and Diehl nods toward them. “That’s good,” he smiles. “They’re looking for the free meal, too.”

He selects another call. “Clack! Clack! Clack!” This time it’s a startled bird, maybe a duck. Suddenly the bird is attacked. “Crawk! Crawk!”

“There!” Diehl cries. ‘”Did you see him? Moving up the road. Now we’re gonna work him.”

He shuffles through the calls again, selecting the wounded puppy. The awful sound wails across the hillside again and again. Sparrows in the brush below flutter nervously, then flit from bush to bush. Then he appears, standing maybe 200 feet away, dark and small, head high, ears straight, listening and looking.

Diehl raises his .22-250 rifle, rests it on the rocks, and fires. He waits a few moments to see if any other coyotes will appear. When none do, he pulls off the hood and goes down to inspect the kill. “Look here,” he says, pointing at the bullet hole, which seems to pass through the heart. “You can’t tell me that’s cruel. It was over before he knew what happened.” He flops the dead coyote onto its back. “She,” he says, correcting himself. “Last year’s bitch. Maybe thirty pounds. Not in heat yet, or she’d have teats. ” He takes a stick and pokes at the scat oozing from the animal’s anus. “Grape seeds. Avocado skins. We got the guilty one.”

Getting the guilty one is what Diehl calls “the program,” and it is the goal of the Southern California Predator Callers Association, of which he is the director and most avid member. Diehl is on vacation from his job as serviceman for SDG&E, where he has worked for twenty-seven years, and, as usual, he has set aside most of the free time to work on the program.

He ties the animal’s legs together and hoists it onto his back. “Avocados are their most common food out here,” Diehl says, stopping to roll over an avocado with the toe of his boot to show how a coyote has been chewing on it. “If I could ever develop a call like ah avocado, I’d be a millionaire.”

Diehl usually doesn’t take money for working on the program but now and then a farmer will offer some kind of compensation. When Diehl gets back to his truck, the owner of the orchard is waiting there with a lug of grapes and a box of oranges. “I only heard one shot,” the man smiles.

Diehl sets the coyote down. “People: one. Coyotes: zero.”

The man shrugs and shakes his head. “New ones just seem to replace them fast as you can kill them.”

“Maybe I need to step up the program.”

“No complaints about the program. I’m just saying we got coyotes.” Diehl nods. He’s already taken twenty-five coyotes from this place. He loads the farmer’s fruit into the back of his four-wheel-drive pickup, which has a bumper sticker on the back that says, “Be Kind To Plants. Don’t Eat Them.” As the fanner leaves, he says, “I want to pay you for your gas,” and he hands Diehl a ten-dollar bill.

Driving out of the orchard, Diehl says, “He’s usually pretty good about remembering things like that. Some of these guys, I come out to do them a favor and it ends up costing me money. They may lose a thousand bucks to one coyote, but they balk at paying ten dollars for gas.”

It’s an overcast day, still dark even at eight o’clock, and Diehl thinks the coyotes might still be moving. He drives to another orchard in Valley Center and parks on a hillside overlooking the avocado trees. “This fellow lost $9000 in plastic pipe,” he says. “Chewed up by coyotes.” He points to a distant ridge, open and undeveloped. “That’s all government land over there. It’s a big area. Look around, coyotes got everything they need here.” San Diego County is perfect territory for coyotes, he explains, for exactly the same reasons it’s perfect for humans: lack of extreme heat in the summer, mild winters, and an abundance of food.

“There may very well be more coyotes per square mile in San Diego County than anywhere else in this country,” he speculates. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gives several estimates for coyote populations in various types of habitats, but these statistics are notoriously inaccurate, and applying them to an urban area is almost impossible. Nobody knows how many coyotes are in San Diego, but all sources agree they are thriving. “The coyote population in San Diego is growing,” Diehl says, “because their only limit is food. The natural checks and balances are not in operation, and as long as man keeps feeding them their cats and dogs they are going to continue to increase.”

Coyotes are territorial, and will generally cover an area about seven miles in diameter, Diehl explains. But if there is enough food, several coyotes will work in overlapping territories. “There are so many coyotes in San Diego that they work in shifts, night and day, with the dominant males claiming the best areas at the best times.” Also, he says, coyotes will work in packs, or alone, depending upon their prey. They are adaptable to this, while their cousin, the wolf, is not. This may be why the wolf has been nearly eliminated by man. Because wolves pack together, it is just as easy to kill all of them as it is to kill one of them. When coyotes pack together, they are also vulnerable to this, and Diehl claims to have killed as many as seven coyotes in one place.

When Diehl says that coyotes are thriving in San Diego, he makes it very clear that he doesn’t mean just in rural areas. Because of the many undeveloped canyons in central San Diego where they can take refuge, they are doing well there, too. “As recently as last March,” he says, “I’ve answered calls near Mercy Hospital, Seventh Avenue, Tenth Avenue [in Hillcrest]. Unlike most other animals, the coyote has been able to take advantage of urbanization and man’s destruction of environment. We have created an imbalance where a balance once existed, and the effect is that the coyote has prospered where other wildlife has not.

Calling through camouflage

“If the coyote and the elephant were the last two animals on earth,” Diehl continues, “I have no doubt that the coyote would figure out a way to kill the elephant and eat it.”

While on the subject of what a coyote will eat, Diehl begins naming all the things he has found in coyotes’ stomachs: “Watermelon, tomatoes, rats, mice, grasshoppers, bees, watercress, carrots, chilis, bones, teeth, egg shells, fish, chokecherries, pyracantha berries, persimmons, uncured olives, cigarettes, squash . . . Then there’s your apples, cactus, quail, duck, squirrel, mud hens, and geese. Did I say golf balls? Jerusalem crickets, plastic pipe, cloth, string, flea collars, shoe leather, feathers, dachshunds, schnauzers, snakes, gourds, lizards ... Ah, hell,” he says, finally giving up, “they’ll eat anything. The coyote is the laziest animal that walks, and he’ll eat the easiest thing he can find. And if he doesn’t eat it, he ’ll breed it. ” Diehl walks a few hundred feet from the truck, crouches in a blind, and tries his calls. After ten minutes, no coyotes appear. “They’re shy here,’’ he says. “Been shot at too many times.’’ He stands up slowly, looking around him. “Never know,” he says, “might bring in a bobcat, mountain lion.” The distress calls he uses can work on any kind of predator, though he claims he’s also called in joggers and meditators. “One time, on a job at Camp Pendleton, a Marine heard me calling. He went back to the base MPs and told them somebody was out there murdering babies.’’

Driving away from the orchard, Diehl keeps one hand resting on his rifle, as though he might use it at any moment. “Woman up there raised Japanese game hens,” he says, pointing to a house on a hill. “She and her husband retired out here just so they could raise these beautiful show birds. Coyotes wiped them out.” Diehl eliminated the coyotes, but as he says, “It was more revengeful than preventative. The damage had already been done.”

Diehl stops at a coffee shop for breakfast, and as he walks in the door, the people smile at him. Dressed in his camouflage gear, he looks as if he has spent the morning invading some Latin American country. “How would you like your eggs?” the waitress asks.

“Gut shot,” he replies.

She looks around nervously, wondering if maybe she should call the police. “I’m afraid I don’t know what that means,’ ’ she says, trying to smile.

“Scrambled,’’ Diehl laughs, translating from the hunter lingo.

As he eats his steak and eggs, he talks about the Southern California Predator Callers Association. “We limit the club to twenty-five members. There’s a long waiting list, but we like to keep it small because there’s trouble in numbers.” Since the club answers so many calls in urban areas, the members have to consider their liability if someone were to be injured, or property damaged by an errant shot. For that reason Diehl says, the club is insured by Lloyd’s of London for $25 million. “We can’t make any mistakes. Our members have got to know when to shoot and when not to shoot. We don’t take any screwups. We’re performing a service to the public and we have to act accordingly.” The goal of his club, he says, is “the conservation of wildlife through the control of predators. I don’t hate coyotes. I respect them. I wouldn’t want to eliminate all of them, and there would be no point in eliminating all of them. But by controlling them, I think I’m doing them a favor.”

Diehl admits that he doesn’t have much use for people who don’t sympathize with the program. “Pseudoecologists,” he growls. “Most people, if they know anything about animals, they learned it on TV. Cartoons. Disneyland. How many people really take the time to go out and observe nature? How many people have seen coyotes preying on a cow giving birth? The calf is dead before it hits the ground. Then the coyote goes for the afterbirth, and when he’s done with that, he chews on the cow’s udders until she bleeds to death. Now, that’s the kind of thing you’ll never see on Disneyland, because it’s gross and because they can’t make any money showing people that. Nature is the most brutal killer of all. People don’t want to know that, but that is reality.”

Coyote was trying to sleep off a wild night on the town when he was awakened by the sound of pounding in the canyon below. He looked out of his doorway and saw two men driving survey stakes into the ground. He watched the men work for a while, then dozed off again. The sight of work always bored him.

Coyote didn’t object to a new subdivision in the neighborhood. He was no pseudo-ecologist. In fact, as he slept he dreamed of all the new houses with bowls of cat food on their back porches. In his dream, he went around to each house and ate the cat food, then he went back and ate the cats.

That evening, when the pounding finally stopped and the men went home, Coyote went down to inspect their work. The area had been divided into neat parcels and every parcel was marked by four orange stakes. Coyote went around and lifted his leg on each of the stakes, just so the men wouldn’t forget whose neighborhood this really was.

After Coyote had finished surveying the subdivision, he felt hungry and thought maybe he’d go over to the freeway and wait for a take-out order. As he started toward the lagoon he heard an eerie sound below him. It was a shrieking, weeping, squalling kind of sound, and though he wasn’t sure, he thought it might be a rabbit in trouble. His blood quickened and he hurried toward the easy meal.

Just as Coyote entered the clearing at the water’s edge, a shot rang out, echoing off the canyon walls. A patch of fur flew off his back, and the impact of the bullet lifted him in the air and spun him around in a circle. He hit the ground running and didn’t stop until he got home.

As he licked the blood from his wound, just beneath his skin he found the small lead bullet. He squeezed it between his teeth and found that it was soft and chewable. So he ate it.

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