Coyote America--How These Small Western Wolves Have Adapted and Survived

Aug 25, 2016

Dan Flores, author of ten books on western U.S. history, calls coyotes "an American original," having evolved in North America over five million years ago.  Many people tried to kill them off as late as the 1960s, but they have bounced back and are now found in all states except Delaware and Hawaii.

Flores' new book is "Coyote America; A Natural and Supernatural History." (Basic Books)  The author told us that the wily small wolves survived over mammoths, mastodons and saber-toothed cats.  Fifteen-thousand years ago when the first people crossed over into North American, he says they were intrigued with the animals and impressed that the coyotes were shrewd enough and adoptable to survive.  "To the Indians, the coyotes were elevated to deity status, an avatar for human beings and their stand-in for the natural world," Flores told Charity.  "Later, European-Americans were also surprised to encounter the small wolves, in fact in 1804 William Clark (of Lewis and Clark) thought at first that it was a type of new fox, but he later called them Prairie Wolves."

We also learned from the author that most of the American public called coyotes "prairie wolves" until about 1915.  From that point on, the animals faced a very difficult time as major eradication efforts began, often using poison, because farmers and ranchers believe that coyotes killed livestock.  In fact, they only killed rats and mice.  Flores told us "since they were earlier loved by people, they had no fear of humans, and were shot by the thousands, almost to extinction.  Part of it was due to a misinterpretation of the Mark Twain Story, Roughing It.  This tragic campaign lasted through the 1960s."  Flores explained to our Talk of Iowa listeners that it wasn't until 1972 that President Nixon forbade the use of poison on public lands. The eradication effort, Flores says, "had been the most shameful persecution of animals in U.S. history."

Despite the efforts to kill them off, Flores is thrilled that coyotes have recovered and are with us in abundant numbers today, animals that "really enjoy their lives."