A thoughtful study of Canis latrans, that quintessential North American mammal.
“The coyote is a kind of special Darwinian mirror, reflecting back insights about ourselves as fellow mammals.” So writes historian Flores (Emeritus, Western History/Univ. of Montana; American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains, 2016, etc.) from his perch outside Santa Fe, where, he fondly recounts, he lives within howling distance of any number of the song dogs. Many urbanites have assumed it to be an invader of ecological niches that has been colonizing cities only recently owing to an annihilation of its wild habitat. They are to be forgiven, given that Los Angeles alone is estimated to harbor 5,000 coyotes, forcing Angelenos to “go Aztec and learn to live with them.” However, writes the author, the coyote has long been a fixture of human settlements in North America, drawn to them by “our close fellow travelers, the mice and rats that flourish around and among us in profusion.” That more coyotes are being seen in Chicago buses and on rooftops in Queens would seem to be more a function of there being more ways to report on their movements, since coyotes have been merrily swimming across the Mississippi for millennia as well. Flores’ portrait sometimes carries over into outright advocacy on issues such as bounty killing to control coyote numbers, but on the whole, it is a spirited blend of history, anthropology, folklore, and biology that is capable of surprises; for instance, Flores writes in detail of a kind of coexistence among wolves and coyotes, supposedly traditional enemies, that has emerged in places like Yellowstone, even as the return of Canis lupus from the brink of extinction has come as a bit of future shock for the smaller canids.
Well written throughout and just the right length, Flores’ book makes a welcome primer for living in a land in which coyotes roam freely—in, that is to say, the Coyote America of his title.