REVIEWS: American Coyote: Still Wild at Heart
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2009:
American Coyote: Still Wild at Heart
30-minute documentary by Melissa Peabody
Distributed by Project Coyote, a program of Earth Island Institute,
c/o P.O. Box 5007, Larkspur, CA 94977; 415-945-3232; www.projectcoyote.org
American Coyote: Still Wild at Heart is a 30-minute edition
of a documentary that debuted in 2007 as the 55-minute DVD release
San Francisco: Still Wild At Heart, and was later screened at the
2008 United Nations Association Film Festival. A three-minute
trailer, Bernal Hill: Still Wild at Heart, aired in 2008 at the
Bernal Hill Outdoor Cinema.
Videographer Melissa Peabody came to coyotes as her focal
subject after editing wildlife programs for Animal Planet, producing
educational videos for Stanford University, and a three-year stint
with KRON-TV, the San Francisco NBC affiliate.
Coyotes were aggressively exterminated on the San Francisco
peninsula for decades while sheep ranching continued along the crests
of rolling hills that were considered too steep for urban expansion,
but visibly persisted until the sheep industry petered out circa
1970. Though still common farther south and on the west side of the
peninsula, coyotes had not been reported in South San Francisco, on
the east side, in approximately 30 years when Peabody and others
began noticing them in Bernal Hill Park.
“I made the film,” Peabody recalls, “because I was so moved
by the arrival of this animal.”
Primarily nocturnal, coyotes must have reached Bernal Hill
by traveling at night. At Bernal Hill Park they found abundant prey,
including gophers, rats, and opossum. But soon city residents
began reporting coyotes seen in back yards or on streets, foraging
for food around dusk. Then came complaints about missing cats and
small dogs. Researchers trapped, radio-collared, and then tracked
several coyotes. They lived in small packs, not as lone wanderers,
indicative of entire families having established themselves before
they were discovered. The Bernal Hill coyotes were not distracted by
city noise, and stayed near water sources.
They continued moving north, into San Francisco proper,
where they colonized Golden Gate Park. There, sadly, animal
control officers shot two coyotes because they allegedly threatened
humans. The coyotes had apparently been fed by humans, a practice
that wildlife experts strongly caution against.
In extremely rare cases, in isolated places, some wild
coyotes have become companions to unique individual humans, but
coyotes are not dogs, and should not be socialized to live with
humans. Most are, as the film says, still wild at heart.
American Coyote: Still Wild at Heart explores a promising
experiment in non-lethal predator control underway since 2000 in
rural Marin County, California, across the Golden Gate Bridge from
San Francisco. Project Coyote founder Camilla Fox explained in the
January/February 2008 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE that about 75% of the
10,000 sheep in Marin County are now protected by the use of guard
dogs, llamas, and electric fencing. The county shares the cost.
A rancher testifies on camera that his livestock losses are
down by 75-80% since he joined the program.
Peabody interviews biologists, ecologists and wildlife
researchers to discuss the history and future of coyotes. Since 1930
the U.S. government has subsidized the systematic slaughter of
coyotes through aerial gunning, poisoning, and trapping. Hunters
shoot them for sport. Human development and population growth have
displaced coyotes from much of their former wild habitat in the west
Yet the extirpation of wolves, foxes, and other predators
from most of the U.S. in the early to mid-20th century enabled
coyotes to expand their range from coast to coast by 1948. Within
another decade studies had established that no matter how many
coyotes are removed from any habitat that will support them, the
survivors will raise larger litters to rapidly occupy the carrying
Coyotes are intelligent, so they adapt to the environment
changing around them. Eventually they learned that cities offer food
and cover, where they may have to dodge cars but not aerial gunnery.
Now coyotes thrive in the Chicago greenbelt, Central Park in New
York City, and one was even found riding a light rail vehicle in
Recommended for wildlife enthusiasts, animal control
officers, biology students, and ecologists, American Coyote:
Still Wild at Heart creates appreciation, awareness and respect for
coyotes and the challenges they face in the modern world. –Debra J.