Postscript: Call of the Wild

Open City columnist Anne Taylor Fleming on learning about coyotes and the local wildlife experts who help make Los Angeles a safe place for us and them

Photograph courtesy flickr/Dru Bloomfield

I am amazed that I have never written about coyotes. I have lived in Los Angeles all my life and have been aware of them since I was a child. They slithered around the edges of my imagination, with their wild howling and doglike appearance. I wasn’t exactly scared of them when I did see them, but they loomed large in the mind of a native girl because they were the only predators I saw up close from time to time or heard while on walks in the mountains. What a remarkable thing: to live in a vast, sprawling urban space and yet also be in such close proximity to something so wild and free. Of course there were those scary tales every now and again about one of these animals killing a domestic pet or trying to drag a small child out of a yard, stories that sent a shiver through the city. But until I write about something, I am never truly sure what I think.

Now that I have reckoned with the animal on paper in my Open City column, I am a bit in awe of these wily creatures that have outmaneuvered us humans at every turn. We have tried to poison and trap them, and yet here they are among us—as strong as ever. They have figured out a way to thrive in this great big teeming city, to live alongside us—and, in effect, to reeducate us, to try to teach us how to share this piece of the planet with them.     

Much of that reeducation has fallen to a handful of dedicated coyote experts—to whom I, for one, am most grateful. I couldn’t have written about the animal without these experts’ fervor and guidance. As a journalist, I am often struck by the willingness of people to enlighten me, to bring me up to speed about this or that. So it was in this matter. Straight out of the box (courtesy of Google) I ran into a woman named Camilla Fox, as fluent and smart a coyote advocate as you can find. She is the executive director of Project Coyote and also a wildlife consultant with the Animal Welfare Institute. There is nothing touchy-feely about Ms. Fox. She is pragmatic, statistic based, and enthusiastically dry-eyed and yet impassioned about the animal she has made a big part of her life’s work. We must learn to live with them, she counsels, not try to wipe them out or befriend them. They are clearly here to stay, she says, so cohabitation is the goal.  

Her sentiments are echoed by Gregory Randall, wildlife specialist for the City of Los Angeles Animal Services. These two, sometimes working together, are changing the way Angelenos are learning to live with these animals. During the last few years, there has been a real shift in the way we are now acting toward the coyotes in our midst. We aren’t trying to slaughter them; nor are we trying to seduce them with food. We are instead learning to do a mutually respectful dance, leaving them to roam as they will, while also understanding what we need to do to protect ourselves.

So a small revolution has taken place—or maybe not so small. I am inclined to think that how we treat our magical place and its magical creatures—with what courtesy and care—is a big reflection of the state of our morality, not to put too fancy a spin on things. Makes me feel better about my city, and that always makes me happy.

ALSO: Read Anne Taylor Fleming’s February column, Call of the Wild.