Thank you for tuning in for our May issue of 2018! We have a somewhat special issue for you as we are going to focus solely on a coyote update. Think of this month’s update as the Coyote Issue! We often talk about our wolves and wolf dogs but wanted to give you an update that was a little more unique.
At the moment, we currently house four coyotes at our sanctuary, Yuni, Maine, Lyla and Jasa. They live in two separate pairs, both consisting of a male and a female. Both pairs share a fence line, and thus are neighbors with one another. Apparently, coyotes and wolves are very different when it comes to their social constructs and how they are designed to live with one another, and so keeping in them in captivity presents a different set of problems. Both wolves and coyotes mate in the winter and go into heat only once a year. This time of cold and hormonal elevation often leads to very energized and amplified animal communication. They can be more intense, touchier, and more anxious and display greater overall levels of tension and stress; this manifests in two very different ways for the coyote and wolf.
Wolves can be in packs as large as 16 members strong (which is a very large pack), and in general, the alpha male and female will breed and reproduce. This is a normal part of the wolf social structure and thus sexual activity is not a necessity for the individual members of the pack to bond with one another. Their natural rise in tension during mating season is facilitated by social constructs. This is apparently very different for the coyote. Coyotes often live in small family units and can also be members of larger coyote communities with many separate families living within a relatively small area. During mating season, there are many coyotes mating with one another as there are not necessarily “alphas” that get all the resources. With sexual maturity and a chosen mate, coyotes will bond with another during mating season.
In captivity, we have found that spaying and neutering wolves generally do not present any repercussions on their social dynamics with one another during mating season and in some ways, we have seen that it helps with lowering tensions between some of our companions. However, it has not been the case when it comes to coyotes. We have been told that it is optimal for captive coyotes to leave the female intact and to give the male a vasectomy – not neutering him. With this, the two coyotes are able to connect with another during mating season, bond and diffuse tensions during this time of year. Lyla and Jasa are intact, but since Jasa has a vasectomy, there is no reproducing. With this pair, this situation has been ideal and so far has seemed to work for them.
For those of you that follow us consistently, you may remember some of the issues we spoke about in our December 2017 Wrap Up issue regarding our coyotes, Yuni and Maine. Just to recap, these two had to be separated due to tensions and small injuries that occurred during the breeding season of 2017. These issues manifested because they were spayed and neutered and were unable to perform their yearly bonding ritual. The tension escalated for months and when it hit an all-time high, we decided separation was best. We built a 20 x 10-foot enclosure inside their shared habitat so that they could still see one another and be in each other’s vicinity. This separation lasted a few months, and though we had little hope of them returning to a state of mutual acceptance and peaceful coexistence, they have been reunited once again.
So far their reintroduction has been going well and we are happy to report that we expect good results, at least for the foreseeable future. The biggest concern for their compatibility is during breeding season, as this is a naturally high tension time in the life of a wild canine. Since both Yuni and Maine were spayed and neutered early in their life, they do not have the experience, know-how, and capacity to do the normal bonding rituals that are inherent to them. The inability to mate during breeding season indeed amplifies their restlessness and anxiety. At this stage, it will have to be a continual process of monitoring their state during this time and now that we’re aware, we’ll be especially conscious of this next breeding season.
Although it’s with great happiness that we are reporting Yuni and Maine are back together, we have had to make some changes to their habitat nonetheless. The “temporary” 20’x10’ enclosure will stay in case separation needs to occur again and we needed to create a visual barrier between the neighboring coyote habitats. The two pairs were spending an inordinate amount of time “fence fighting” with one another and feeding off of each other’s energy. With a very delicate balance already in place, we were afraid of undue complications in the individual coyote habitats. In order to facilitate a more peaceful cohabitation, we blocked off view between the two habitats with 360+ pounds of steel sheeting. This solution has so far proven to be very effective and is currently allowing both coyote pairs to live side by side without turning the average day into an episode of Game of Thrones. 😉
Jasa and Lyla are as happy as they have been, and Maine is so happy to have his companion to love bite on, play with and just to lie next to throughout the day. Yuni, our most social coyote, has been continuously improving her sociability. Her original “rescue angel” had taught Yuni how to walk on a harness, but it’s taken almost two years for Yuni to begin to do so at Wild Spirit. In her early days with us, Yuni was shy with new people and it would take time for her to warm up to new caretakers. However, with consistency and a loving hand, Yuni has flourished. She regularly comes up to caretakers she knows with great enthusiasm and demands for pets and she will now “ask” for a walk with our Assistant Director.
Her first few walks were mandatory, as they were a means to move her out of the habitat while our team assembled the temporary enclosure inside and the first day after the visual barrier was installed, Yuni was so frightened of it that all she wanted was OUT. (At the time, it had not been fastened down and the wind made big scary metallic noises.) Nowadays, Yuni has gone out for at least three enrichment walks, and each one gets longer and longer. A definite sign that she’s becoming comfortable and confident in her walks: marking her territory. Though in the wild this is an unnatural state for a coyote and one we do not recommend people try to attempt, in captivity, increased sociability enhances the quality of life of some animals significantly. It certainly has for Yuni! It also seems that her socialization is beginning to rub off on Maine, so we’ll see where that goes.
All in all, the Wild Spirit coyote neighborhood appears to be on the up and up!