Review From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2009:

American Coyote: Still Wild at Heart

30-minute documentary by Melissa Peabody Distributed by Project Coyote, a program of Earth Island Institute, c/o P.O. Box 5007, Larkspur, CA 94977; 415-945-3232; www.projectcoyote.org

American Coyote: Still Wild at Heart is a 30-minute edition of a documentary that debuted in 2007 as the 55-minute DVD release San Francisco: Still Wild At Heart, and was later screened at the

2008 United Nations Association Film Festival. A three-minute trailer, Bernal Hill: Still Wild at Heart, aired in 2008 at the Bernal Hill Outdoor Cinema.

Videographer Melissa Peabody came to coyotes as her focal subject after editing wildlife programs for Animal Planet, producing educational videos for Stanford University, and a three-year stint with KRON-TV, the San Francisco NBC affiliate.

Coyotes were aggressively exterminated on the San Francisco peninsula for decades while sheep ranching continued along the crests of rolling hills that were considered too steep for urban expansion, but visibly persisted until the sheep industry petered out circa 1970. Though still common farther south and on the west side of the peninsula, coyotes had not been reported in South San Francisco, on the east side, in approximately 30 years when Peabody and others began noticing them in Bernal Hill Park.

"I made the film," Peabody recalls, "because I was so moved by the arrival of this animal."

Primarily nocturnal, coyotes must have reached Bernal Hill by traveling at night. At Bernal Hill Park they found abundant prey, including gophers, rats, and opossum. But soon city residents began reporting coyotes seen in back yards or on streets, foraging for food around dusk. Then came complaints about missing cats and small dogs. Researchers trapped, radio-collared, and then tracked several coyotes. They lived in small packs, not as lone wanderers, indicative of entire families having established themselves before they were discovered. The Bernal Hill coyotes were not distracted by city noise, and stayed near water sources.

They continued moving north, into San Francisco proper,where they colonized Golden Gate Park. There, sadly, animal control officers shot two coyotes because they allegedly threatened humans. The coyotes had apparently been fed by humans, a practice that wildlife experts strongly caution against.

In extremely rare cases, in isolated places, some wild coyotes have become companions to unique individual humans, but coyotes are not dogs, and should not be socialized to live with humans. Most are, as the film says, still wild at heart.

American Coyote: Still Wild at Heart explores a promising experiment in non-lethal predator control underway since 2000 in rural Marin County, California, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Project Coyote founder Camilla Fox explained in the January/February 2008 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE that about 75% of the 10,000 sheep in Marin County are now protected by the use of guard dogs, llamas, and electric fencing. The county shares the cost.

A rancher testifies on camera that his livestock losses are down by 75-80% since he joined the program.

Peabody interviews biologists, ecologists and wildlife researchers to discuss the history and future of coyotes. Since 1930 the U.S. government has subsidized the systematic slaughter of coyotes through aerial gunning, poisoning, and trapping. Hunters shoot them for sport. Human development and population growth have displaced coyotes from much of their former wild habitat in the west and southwest.

Yet the extirpation of wolves, foxes, and other predators from most of the U.S. in the early to mid-20th century enabled coyotes to expand their range from coast to coast by 1948. Within another decade studies had established that no matter how many coyotes are removed from any habitat that will support them, the survivors will raise larger litters to rapidly occupy the carrying capacity.

Coyotes are intelligent, so they adapt to the environment changing around them. Eventually they learned that cities offer food and cover, where they may have to dodge cars but not aerial gunnery.

Now coyotes thrive in the Chicago greenbelt, Central Park in New York City, and one was even found riding a light rail vehicle in Portland, Oregon.

Recommended for wildlife enthusiasts, animal control officers, biology students, and ecologists, American Coyote:

Still Wild at Heart creates appreciation, awareness and respect for coyotes and the challenges they face in the modern world.

--Debra J. White

Copyright Project Coyote, All Rights Reserved. Site Credits