There are mysteries within the world that lay hidden, and there are mysteries that wander the earth in disguise – as it is thought their ways are known.
Such is the coyote, the canine species that roams throughout North and Central America, often depicted as a crude survivor of the land.
Author Mark Twain called the animal “a living breathing allegory of want”, which inspired cartoonist Chuck Jones to fashion the much-loved Roadrunner – a madcap desert-dweller with an inability to capitalise on a good lunch. And such imagery has largely remained.
A closer look, however, reveals an earthly enigma. American Indian mythology celebrates the coyote as a trickster and god-like figure that is sexually perverse. While specialised coyote scientists, dedicating their whole life to their study, are having a hard time keeping up with them.
Dr Laura Prugh, wildlife ecologist at the University of California, Berkeley, says in order to catch one, traps must be boiled to expunge human sent, handled with gloves and hidden with extreme care. All human footprints must be erased, and even then it’s only the pups that are caught.
These mangy tricksters are also known to breed with dogs and wolfs, producing hybrids of both kinds. In fact, it’s only recently been discovered that coyote-wolf hybrids exist. Indeed.
Coyotes are also extremely versatile, hunting singularly, in packs and with other species. In Wyoming, the coyote has been known to hunt with badgers, so successfully that the team has paired up on numerous occasions. They also eat anything from pigs to garbage, to beetles and watermelons. Opportunists.
Living just about anywhere, this crafty mutt navigates the urban realms with ease, moving stealthily between worlds. Over 2000 of them live in greater Chicago, undetected. Despite their urban numbers, it’s only occasionally that one is spotted in or near the city. Shadows.
The varied hullabaloo of the coyote, with their yelps, yips and howls, is thought to make their numbers sound far greater. Dr Stefano believes coyotes talk to us, telling us of danger approaching and of the day death will come. It’s also believed the coyote has learned Comanche, Apache and many other languages, but not yet English. Quite so.
Herbie Spaffnik, a solitary hunter living in the Appalachian Mountains, says he’s had many a conversation with a coyote, over cards and a few shots of whisky. It’s here he invariably gets tricked into a drinking game, only to wake hours later to find his cupboards bare and his Barry Manilow records gone.
However, he says it’s all worth while, even for just a quick chat with a charming coyote.