There’s something stunning if slightly startling about spotting (or hearing the howl of) our ubiquitous Adirondack canid. Agile and attentive, swift and stealthy, this familiar predator is a familiar and important part of our ecosystem. And yet much mystery and misunderstanding collects around this handsome neighbor, not the least of which is disagreement over whether what you’ve seen (or heard) was a coyote or a coywolf. Today I’d like to gather some helpful insights about this debate while showcasing some of the most recent Rosslyn wildlife cam photos of the carnivore in question.
By now, most of us who spend much time outside in the Adirondack Park have seen some sort of large canid that looks too big to be a Coyote, not quite big enough to be a Wolf. Quite likely, many of us have seen what some wildlife observers are calling the CoyWolf. — John Davis, January 23, 2016 (Source: Welcoming the CoyWolf: Whoever It May Be, Essex on Lake Champlain)
This topic is debated among naturalists and armchair pundits, curiously provoking much more emotional investment and editorializing than other similar topics. So, needless to say, I don’t pretend this post will decide the matter once and for all. But it just might provoke your curiosity, inspiring you to research and a little more. And perhaps these recent photos (as well as previous coyote images we’ve recorded and published) will afford you some visual context for conjuring your own opinion about the coyote-coywolf neighbor maintaining balance in our our wildway.
Let’s start with the first two photographs above, captured last Sunday. The top image of an unclose and personal encounter with a healthy and undebatable handsome wild dog was photographed on one of the Rosslyn wildlife cams exactly 18 minutes prior to my arrival on cross-country skies with John and Denise to download the photos. In other words, almost enjoyed this face-to-face encounter in person rather than digital facsimile. And about three and a half hours later, while John, Denise, and I were wrapping up a tasty brunch indoors, this same coyote (or coywolf?) returned in the opposite direction, perhaps after a similarly tasty brunch.
Persecution and Evolution
Too often conversation about the coyote involves judging it a nuisance or a threat. And too often “controlling” and/or attempting to eradicate the perceived nuisance or threat is treated as reasonable and even ethical. Our opinion differs profoundly, and the Rosslyn wildlife sanctuary is in no small part an effort to protect and preserve an essential part of our ecosystem. (I will defer frequently in this post to John Davis, our rewilding steward, who is far better versed in the merits and circumstances of both the Eastern Coyote and the Coywolf.)
The Coyotes and CoyWolves we’re seeing in the Adirondacks and Vermont are being heavily persecuted, which may not much depress their numbers (Coyotes practice compensatory reproduction) but upsets their social dynamics, and causes untold individual suffering.
Killing these apex predators is wrong… — John Davis, January 30, 2016 (Source: Wrong to Kill Coyotes, Wolves and CoyWolves, Essex on Lake Champlain)
Please read “Friend of Foe: Eastern Coyote” for a more detailed look at precisely why killing these apex predators is wrong.
Now let’s examine the intriguing overlap of DNA that appears to be altering the native Eastern Coyote population, blending the bloodlines of three different canids.
We have in northern New York an illuminating experiment that we may do well to let play out. Coyotes have interbred with wolves, producing a bigger, more wolf-like eastern coyote, or coy-wolf, which is hunting in packs and occasionally taking down whitetailed deer…” — John Davis, November 1, 2016 (Source: “We Shouldn’t Hunt Moose“, Adirondack Council)
Coyotes and wolves have interbred. Not by whimsical accident or desire, but by necessity. But more on that in a moment. First a look at the first time I began to realize firsthand that the coyotes I was experiencing seemed different.
The coyote—or possibly “coywolf”—was easily as large as a malamute… and the head and tail were notably larger than other coyotes I’ve seen…
I have witnessed firsthand coyotes of significantly larger proportions. My first experience took place almost a decade ago while brush-hogging one of the rear meadows. The coyote—or possibly “coywolf”—was easily as large as a malamute and considerably more robust than the coyotes in these trail cam photos. Coloring was mottled grays and browns, and the head and tail were notably larger than other coyotes I’ve seen.
My second experience was more recent.
An almost black coyote/”coywolf” of still larger proportions was startled by me during an early morning orchard inspection. S/he loped away from me across the near meadow, slowly and confidently, gliding through the high grass with a confidence and elegance I’ve never before witnessed among coyotes. (Source: Coyotes Captured on Camera, May 10, 2017)