Why this book?
Coyote America was first recommended to me by my Ph.D. advisor in the winter of 2019, when we came across it in a bookshop in Gardiner Montana, just a few yards from the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. At the time I was roughly six months away from finishing my Ph.D. and wholly consumed with ironing out the final details of my dissertation (informally titled On Coyotes) and landing a new job in science communication. While she was right that I probably *should* read it, the thought of
How it stacked up:
It’s challenging to overstate how hard humans really did try to exterminate coyotes; Flores devotes roughly a third of the book to describing the predator control efforts implemented by men armed with guns, strychnine, and overly inflated egos following the “successful” near-extinction of wolves through similar methods. I found it somewhat challenging to follow all the exact details of the legal history, the precise timeline, and the various agencies involved, but the point was clear: over the past few centuries, humans wanted coyotes to die, and instead, the exact opposite happened. Coyote population sizes grew, and their range expanded in all directions.
As is the case with most scientific observations, the persistence of coyotes in the face of aggressive management efforts aren’t the result of a single ecological factor, and several reasonable and non-mutually exclusive explanations were described in the book. Simply put, coyotes have weaker social bonds than their wolf cousins, and killing one coyote is far less likely to lead to the dissolution of an entire pack. In that sense, successful wolf-killing methods wouldn’t be expected to work as well for coyotes. Further, coyotes are also known to have a highly variable number of offspring, and when population density is low, they repopulate pretty efficiently with increased litter size. Combine that with a largely wolf-free landscape, and you get resilient coyotes on the move, expanding eastward to their final frontier of Long Island, New York, which also happens to be my homeland.
Despite these brutal control efforts, it is essential to note that human hatred of coyotes is not a universal phenomenon. It is from the Aztec word coyotl from which we actually derive the word coyote, and coyotes hold spiritual significance in many Native American cultures. Throughout the book, Flores steps away from the scientific descriptions and retells the stories of “Old Man Coyote,” an anthropomorphized deity whose escapades reveal the human condition. It is with these stories that Flores drives home the central metaphor of the book; as animals resilient to sweeping changes in their environments, coyotes are a lot like humans.