A new federal agency, dedicated to the destruction of predators… aimed to kill every predator of every species in a region… [Dan Flores, Coyote America, 2016]
Extermination, destruction, eradication, extirpation… these words blatantly went into state policy titles. For someone growing up with population ecology common sense, it is beyond ridiculous to see, not too long ago into the past, a governmental agency trying to eliminate the entire “predator” category from the ecological hierarchy.
Forest service, national park service, fish and wildlife service… these names today automatically project green and friendly mental images, referring to probably the most harmless governmental departments. Who would have thought they had such a dark history during the late 19th and early 20th centuries?1
These near past events serve as a warning sign that is still beckoning to us: how zeal wedded with ignorance is surely to produce madness Ahab style. One would think after the Endangered Species Act, wild animals in general were to cast behind them the darkest era of their history, and to ride the turning tides triumphantly into the future. Wrong. If my eyes are not deceiving me, the red wolf recovery program is still on at this very moment – the one that actually led up to the Act itself. One defines a specific animal to be a species, then finds it to be endangered. In the name of purity, some other canids like coyote, whom red wolves naturally have genetic exchange with, simply lost their right to exist. Layman’s questions aside2, the chilling methodology aside3, one never ceases to be exasperated by blind human convictions.
Also noteworthy is the social significance the particular scientific advance in ecology rapidly brought about, which today I have so naturally taken for granted. Back then the coyote research was done in a highly politicized environment, entangled in a web of industrial interests – in this case those of the ranchers and hunters – much like what climate scientists have to face today, as was pointed out in the book. I wonder how climatology will look like in the eyes of the near future. Does it cast a similar curve of acceptance rate that quickly converges to a common wisdom steady state? Has it morphed into a new wave of public movement?
Despite all the atrocities revealed by the book, its overall style is actually quite witty, and also dotted with suspension. The author’s personal encounters with coyotes were most beautifully written. The poignant reflection of the detachment shown by that killer child, awakens my own deep remorse for similar degrees of cruelty. The wooden call episode let me relive the moment of mixed mutual feelings – those of curiosity and fear that seem to epitomize the entire subject of man and nature.
If the Old Man Coyote, “a whirlwind biophysical force with a large capacity for taking sensuous pleasure in life”, who embraces “no religious tradition beyond being alive” but “sacred existence”, and “teaches delight in being alive in a world of wondrous possibilities”, sounds too much of artificial romanticism than a sober observation, then there is this; if among all the tales and accounts there is a single story to remember, then it is this:
A coyote trot along a trail with a sprig of sagebrush in its mouth. At repeated intervals it had tossed the sprig joyously into the air, caught it, then trotted on.4
3 The technique “using morphology measurements and recorded howl profiles” instantly alarms me by a frightening association with the Nazi studies of differentiating human races for malicious purposes. What the author related to was Crania Americana, which at first I presumed was less harmful as I had never heard of it before. But it seems to be recognized as an important work for scientific racism.