Working with wild animals seems, from the outside, to be an exciting and exhillarating thing to do. Obtaining the initial permit ten years ago to trap and radio collar coyotes on the peninsula took an entire year. Red tape, upon rejection upon doors being slammed, and "no, no, no!" fell on deaf ears, and blind eyes. I would not take no for an answer, and I still don't.
When Carrie applied for her trapping permit, things went much more smoothly the second time around. I was so excited that this project was again moving forward; wondering what could be learned this time. For there is very little information known about wild Eastern coyotes. Little field work has been done on them.
Last year, with extreme difficulty, we were able to trap two coyotes despite the immense amount of snow we received. Our first coyote trapped this time around was a male near the Stull Interpretive Center. He was an average sized animal--nothing remarkable about his appearance.
Telemetry is a remarkable thing. It lets you monitor an individual animal from a distance. If you are lucky, signals from three different locations allow you to pinpoint the coyote's location. A tremendous amount of information can be collected from just knowing where the animal is spending his time.
So as a field biologist, you spend a lot of time walking around in search of your collared animals. You begin to wonder what exactly they are up to the moment you hear the "beep, beep, beep" on the receiver. All this work carries over into your daily life, and you begin to wonder at other times what your research animals are doing. Just like a parent wondering when their teenagers will come home at night.
Upon the initial release from trapping an animal, I worry about the 48 hour acclimation period. A free, wild animal now has something foreign around its neck and getting used to it takes some time. Many animals spend an excessive amount of time grooming themselves. Can you blame them? They have to get the human stink off somehow! Once an individual passes this acclimation period, most carry on as usual.
Part of radiotelemetry and biology in general is to not become attached to your research animals. Well, you might as well tell a colony of ants to ignore that ice cream cone that just smashed on the sidewalk. Perhaps if I were researching snails it would be different. But coyotes? They look just like a dog! Beautiful, intelligent, and mysterious. When handling these animals, it is clear there is something going on behind their striking eyes. I cannot explain it--I just know there is sentience there. The coyote demands respect. They are highly adaptable--and therin is the key to the coyote's success. And his greatest downfall.
Because these animals are so smart, people take great pleasure and pride in hunting them. Should we or shouldn't we is another matter entirely; and I certainly have my own private opinion about this practice. But when it's your animal that is shot, when it is your coyote, the one you caught, the one you got to know, the one that took ever so long to catch and radiocollar--it's a different story entirely.
"Jack" -- as he was known between just Carrie and I -- was shot along with his mate in Ohio this past weekend. It's hard to know how to feel. Angry. Frustrated. Dissapointed. Sad. Sure, all those mixed together create an ugly feeling inside. You wonder the exact details, which can never be known. Why did this happen? All that work has now ended--quite abrubtly and with great suprise and sadness.