This book was enlightening, but not at all in the ways I expected it to be. I expected a book about coyotes, what they eat, what habitats they prefer, how they raise their young, and other ecological information. I expected a book about coyotes in my America (that is, in Massachusetts, where as far as I can remember coyotes have always existed).
Instead I learned just how recently coyotes have expanded into the east coast states (only in the last few decades), and even more recently, into major urban centers like New York City. I learned about how many coyotes federal agencies have killed over the years in the name of game and livestock protection. Even more shockingly, I learned how many are still killed each year through these same programs, albeit through slightly different methods.
Coyotes have always been associated with cleverness or trickiness, but this book expounds upon just how adaptive and opportunistic these animals are. It turns out, the harder humans fought against coyotes, and the more coyotes they killed, the more coyotes there seemed to be. They have incredibly plastic social orders, vacillating from solitary to social animals as the need arises, referred to as a fission-fusion sociality, and they can alter their litter size dramatically, from 2 to 19, to take advantage or respond to the ecological opportunities or pressures around them.
Coyote America by Dan Flores is a facilitating account not just about coyotes in America, but about human’s evolving relationship with wildlife and nature. Americans’ war on coyotes is far from over, but for a growing number of people this perspective is shifting. Long-term ecological studies have shown that rather than the arch-predator coyotes were thought to be, bent on killing all livestock and desirable game animals, coyotes instead eat predominately small prey (controlling rodent populations) and carrion. Disney movies and Saturday morning cartoons have brought coyotes onto our televisions and into our homes, and helped sway the coyote perception of a whole generation. So, perhaps there is hope for a less antagonist relationship with coyotes in the future. Perhaps, as quoted by Flores in his book, “if we can change the way we view and treat coyotes, we can change the way we treat nature itself.”
I can’t say I always enjoyed this book, as it more often conjured feelings of shock or disbelief than it did feelings of enjoyment, but I would highly recommend it for a new and more comprehensive perspective on coyotes and on America’s often warlike relationship with nature.