Coyote in yellowstone

Coyote in Yosemite National Park
Photo: Christopher Bruno, via wiki


He was the first coyote I had seen, and he was limping and fearful. I grabbed my camera and tried to get closer, strolling at a tangent to appear less threatening. One paw seemed to be tucked under his chest but he could move, crabwise, on the other three. He glided across the field to the creek, hesitated at the steep bank, and disappeared from view. I hurried over before he could vanish forever and found no trace of him. There was no splashing in the water, no scuffling through the brush, just silence. I paced along the bank mystified. Then I found him, sprawled beside the wet pebbles, lying on his side as if sleeping.

In twelve years of Hill Country life, there had been an occasional howling at night. The dogs might bark at sundown, but later the wild things started, when the hunting was good. Actually seeing in daylight a red fox or a coral snake; these things required patience. But this was a real wild animal, and he seemed to be in trouble. I wanted to get close, to breathe the same air, feel the same fear, and maybe try to help.

coyote grasper

Fox and Coyote “Grasper”
Photo: The Snare Shop

There was a piece of wire wrapped around his neck and right shoulder, trapping his right paw. Tongue hanging out, eyes staring, gasping short little breaths, he didn’t try to escape any more. I ran to the corral to fetch a pair of side-cutters I use to cut wire on hay-bales, and dashed back with lungs bursting. The dammed wire was the braided steel kind that they use in snares. It took an eternity trying to sever it, and now suddenly I saw all the blood on the ground. It was in his coat, thickly matted, and the fur and flesh had been sliced clear through to the bone. My hands slick with blood, the wire finally free, I lifted him up and tried to wash the wound with clear creek water. He was limp now, no struggle came, and he lay in my arms as gentle as a puppy.

I had heard of the fears about coyotes and the talk of their cruelty, hunting smaller animals in packs. I imagined them as ugly creatures with oversized jaws and crouching shoulders. This one was like the most perfect companion dog I had ever seen. Lithe, with a long tail and sensitive nose, a smooth brown coat of softest fur, he had large inquisitive eyes that seemed resourceful rather than cruel. How could an animal be so misunderstood?

I laid him down on the high bank in the sun and tried to make him comfortable, to hold together the gaping wound, to encourage him to heal. And that’s where he died. All the effort was for nothing. I tried to picture his shock when the snare closed, his frantic lunging to break free, which only tightened the wire. Finally, the snare anchor had broken but the cruel noose remained. I felt rage at the unthinking and uncaring person who placed the trap. Doubtless it was one of our neighbors, but how could I accuse someone of what, in the country way, was accepted as the normal solution to a problem?

Dead Coyote, snared

from a snare

Photo: Paul Sinclair

His eyes misted over, the chest relaxed, paws rested gently on the ground. His pain over, mine began and endures still. Yet millions of creatures die every second. What sense does it make to mourn only one, who I had known for so short a time? Soon the scavengers would come. The necessary cycle of death and eating that is the way of the world would relentlessly take over. Indeed, two days later, the buzzards and others were finished and all that was left was a pile of bones, and a long bushy tail. I started worrying about the possibility of rabies, later to be proven absent. It was just another experience in life. Friends and relatives die, to be mourned in the proper way. But why did this little animal who was no friend of humans look up at me with such a calm and trusting gaze.

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