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In Defense of an Urban Survivor

When It Comes to Coyotes, L.A. Has a Not-in-My-Backyard Mentality. But There May Be Less to Fear Than You Might Think. By Deanne Stillman

October 20, 2002|Deanne Stillman last wrote for the magazine about researching her book "Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines in the Mojave" (William Morrow), a Los Angeles Times selection as one of the top nonfiction books for 2001.

A couple of months later, I joined a group of campers in Malibu Creek State Park. We had gathered for a twilight talk on coyotes. We sat on wooden benches in an amphitheater staring at a blank movie screen. As sunlight faded and the stars came up, a ranger arrived and began a slide show. The slides comprised a generic nature show--coyote pups, coyote tracks, coyotes on the hunt, coyotes at play. After the visual presentation, it was time for questions and answers. Most questions had to do with coyote control; evidently, those who had gathered under the stars to talk of wilderness had come not out of curiosity but fear. "Why aren't they moved away when they're caught?" one camper asked. "How can I keep coyotes away from my cat?" said another. "Will coyotes eat my toddler?" a third wondered. The ranger advised them that it's best to keep cats away from coyotes, and that it is not likely a coyote would consume human toddlers.

The evening reminded me of traffic school. "If I have an unopened six-pack in my trunk," someone inevitably asks, "can I get busted?" "What if my wine bottle is uncorked but it's in my back seat?" "Exactly how many feet from the driver's seat can I leave the booze?" The conversation is always a perversion of the concept of individual rights, the pursuit of happiness, the national mantra, "It's a free country, Your Honor. It says right here I can do what I want."

So, too, with the coyote: "I'm camping and I brought my Chihuahua . . . . So what if my housing development displaces a coyote settlement? It's easy for them to move. Isn't that what they do?" Yes, they do move. They wander. They are rootless. They survive. Kind of like Americans. In particular, the kind of people who live in Los Angeles. And so they move into our neighborhoods, fleeing other less-desirable regions, dragging a trap perhaps, singing a silent song, searching for a room and a meal.

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