Reviewed by Nicole Rivard
As a child I was enthralled by the nature TV show “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” and my hero was host Jim Fowler, who I recently got to meet since he lives in the same Connecticut town where Friends of Animals is headquartered.
The series covered a diverse range of topics from the lives of specific animals to their relationship with other animals—both friendly and predatory. Many of the shows were filmed in the animals’ natural habitat—frequently Africa and South America—and to this day I still have a longing to visit Africa.
Because the show brought the world’s wildest places and creatures into my living room, a seed of respect and admiration for them was planted in me, ready to sprout in ways I couldn’t have predicted.
Now author Dan Flores has managed to make me revere an animal much closer to home—the coyote.
Flores reveals throughout his latest book—Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History—an animal so similar to humans that it seems both criminal and insane that this country actually had a federal extermination program that used poison to take the lives of 1,884,897 coyotes from 1915 to 1947 and then another 3.6 million through 1971. And it’s unthinkable that there is a Wildlife Services Predator Research Facility in Utah currently experimenting on coyotes to come up with more tools to control the coyote population in addition to the aerial gunning that is still employed.
Among the fascinating revelations throughout the book is that coyotes and humans are among the few mammals in the world who have evolved fission-fusion societies, the ability to live singly or communally—one of the explanations for the success of us and them. Also, the coyote’s famous howl allows it to take censuses of surrounding coyote populations and adjust the sizes of their litters accordingly. In the 1920s, coyotes actually began mysteriously showing up in places east of the Mississippi River. The unrelenting pressure on them triggered larger litters of pups and colonization behavior that pushed them into new settings everywhere on the outer margins of their core range.
With his book, Flores has painted a picture of an extraordinary animal, who should be admired, not treated as a pest by cattle and sheep ranchers out West and not portrayed negatively in the media when sighted in cities across America like Los Angeles and New York City.
While Coyote America is truly “their story,” Flores says that in more ways than you would imagine, “this story is about us. The coyote is a kind of special Darwinian mirror, reflecting back insights about ourselves as fellow mammals.”
I couldn’t agree more. Truly the coyote’s story is one of ingenuity, adaptation and resilience, much like our own story as we navigate through life’s ups and downs. Despite campaigns of annihilation employing poisons, gases, helicopters and engineered epidemics, they didn’t just survive, they thrived, expanding across the continent. They are proof that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
Coyote America, which also provides a history lesson on the environmental movement in this country and its enemies, will help readers realize that coyotes aren’t going anywhere…and that’s a good thing.