August 14, 2008
Big Ears no longer hears the call of the wild
One day at Fort Cronkite a coyote approached hiker Susan Fletcher. "I was amazed seeing a coyote so habituated and friendly."
coyote, named Big Ears, is amiable as a result of human interaction
with wildlife - contact wildlife officials strongly oppose. People
feeding Big Ears have led her astray from her habits, including
hunting, running from cars and avoiding humans. The coyote faces
dangers and a possible lethal removal (another term for killing).
are waiting in anticipation for the Golden Gate National Recreation
Area to make a decision to lethally remove or send Big Ears to a
sanctuary. Fletcher is concerned the GGNRA will kill the animal: "I
feel so strongly because I go down there all the time and I see this
coyote," the Sausalito resident said. "My vote is to send Big Ears to
live in the sanctuary and educate people about coyotes."
visits housing areas, trails and roads. She begs on the roadside and
approaches people and cars expecting food. Park visitors often try to
take pictures with the animal.
In February the Marin Wild Care
Center asked Mary Paglieri, a consultant with the nonprofit Little Blue
Society, to de-habituate Big Ears. Paglieri, a behaviorist and
human-animal conflict consultant, uses non-aggressive methods to change
animal behavior. The young female coyote is not aggressive, Paglieri
said, and acts more like a "scaredy cat," staying at least 10 feet away
from people. She said people, including park personnel, maintenance
staff and visitors, have fed Big Ears since she was a pup. "She became
very dependent on people." Cars hit and killed the coyote's two
The Marin Humane Society and the GGPNRA
preliminary behavior-correction efforts of harassing the coyote and
shooting her with rubber bullets didn't work. Instead, Big Ears learned
to avoid people in uniforms. Paglieri's behavior correction initially
worked, keeping the coyote out of dangerous areas. But the animal
Paglieri has monitored Big Ears for more
than five months, hoping to prevent injury or human contact. Big Ears
can no longer remain at the Headlands, Paglieri said. "Something needs
to be done - for them to be thinking about leaving her in the park is
completely inhumane. As long as she is visible during the daylight,
people will always approach her, feed her and interact with her." She
said eventually someone will be aggressive and Big Ears will bite or
scratch, giving the GGNRA the green light to kill her. The coyote is
also in danger of being hit by a car.
Paglieri had Big Ears
accepted into a sanctuary in Texas, a natural habitat not open to the
public. "Her life circumstances would improve 200 percent - she would
never go hungry and never have to beg." She is waiting to hear if the
park agrees with the sanctuary proposal submitted at the end of March.
The Little Blue Society will pay for the trapping and the Marin
WildCare Center will provide the transportation to fly the coyote to
Texas. "It won't cost the parks anything," Paglieri said. Big Ears has
6-month-old pups that have begun hunting on their own.
said the park has dragged its feet making a decision for Big Ears. Bill
Merkle, GGNRA wildlife ecologist, said the parks are not ready to fully
debate the options -removing an animal from the park is a difficult
decision. "We are going to continue to observe and monitor the
Merkle said there is hesitation about putting a wild
animal in a confined sanctuary setting. Also, he is concerned Big Ears
wouldn't know how to survive somewhere else. "The coyote is so heavily
conditioned by people and food, it's not behaving like a wild animal
Merkle said coyotes are an important part of the
ecosystem. "Our goal is really to keep these animals wild and keep them
on the landscape as part of our ecosystem." He said the GGNRA worked
with staff and trash management to improve chances the coyote could
return to a more natural state. "It's been pretty highly conditioned to
seek food from people. There's a question of whether we're going to be
able to alter that behavior or not."
Rich Weideman, a GGNRA
spokesperson, said the GGNRA wants to find the best solution for all
involved. "We want to make sure the animal isn't hit and we want to
make sure the public is protected. It's a wait-and-see period for us
right now. Whatever we do, we want to do what's right for the animal
and right for the park."
Paglieri said she suspects the parks
don't want to set a precedent, leading to always sending away
habituated coyotes. It should be on a case-by-case basis; a sanctuary
option is not always available. Similarly, Merkle said the GGNRA
doesn't want to be locked in to the idea that sending coyotes away is
the default solution.