August 6, 2014

The Life and Times of the Exhibit Coyote

By Marianne O’Loughlin, Program Intern

On May 1, the male coyote made his exhibit debut and has been one of the Science Center’s most popular exhibit animals ever since. He started as a program animal when he arrived in 2008, but since another coyote arrived in 2013, he’s become a full-time exhibit animal. While the coyote is still a wild animal, he’s gotten used to a human presence from his time as a program animal. He can often be seen running to the exhibit window to investigate visitors, as curious as any wild coyote might be. Coyotes in the wild use this natural curiosity to adapt quickly to new situations. He’s quite the howler, too. If you hear any long, shrill calls anywhere around the Science Center, it’s probably the coyote. His voice carries almost everywhere. Listen in the mornings for the younger female’s response. Since the coyote is so curious, it’s important to give him new experiences every day. Animals at the Science Center, just as in the wild, need to exercise their brains as well as their bodies. We do this by engaging them to practice the same skills they might use in the wild: these new experiences are formally called “enrichment.” Enrichment might involve new objects to see, such as toys or a mirror. Coyotes in the wild are adaptable and are constantly exposed to new things in a variety of habitats.

Most of the time, enrichment involves a new kind of smell. Coyotes in the wild use their supercharged noses to sniff out prey or the trail of another coyote. At the Science Center, the exhibit coyote might smell oregano, nutmeg, vanilla, coffee, or even the scents of other Science Center animals hidden throughout his exhibit. Keep an eye out for the coyote sniffing logs, rocks, or the edges of the exhibit where the scents might be hidden.

Of course, it’s important to have enrichment that the coyote can touch and interact with, too. Since wild coyotes eat a huge variety of animals (and garbage humans leave behind), the exhibit coyote gets some extra treats in addition to his fortified diet. Fish blood, grape juice, jam, “mouse-sicles,” and peanut butter are all on the menu on occasion. We hide food in logs and behind rocks throughout his exhibit so he has to use his sense of smell to find his treats. We also cycle in different logs and rocks in his exhibit so hiding places won’t be predictable.

Coyote FAQ

Do coyotes hunt in packs?
Yes, and no. Coyotes in the east and west are slightly different from one another. Western coyotes are more solitary than their eastern counterparts.

What’s the coyote’s name?
Squam Lakes Natural Science Center's live animals serve as valuable teaching tools to educate our audiences about each species’ role in its environment. To reduce focus on the individual animal and the inherent risk of making wild animals appear as "pets," the Science Center does not use "pet" names for exhibit or program animals. While coyotes are related to dogs, they can never be truly domesticated or “tame.” Animal care staffers work with the coyote under “protected contact,” meaning that when cleaning out holding areas or the exhibit, the coyote is always in a separate area.

How many coyotes are at the science center?
Currently, we have two coyotes. The older male is on exhibit and the younger female is strictly a program animal.

Are coyotes vicious?
Coyotes have powerful teeth and jaws for capturing prey, but unless they lose their fear of humans, they will not actively harm humans unless frightened or threatened. They would rather hunt mice and other small animals and stay out of harm’s way.

The coyote’s looking skinny today. Why is that?
Just like a long-haired dog, coyotes shed their winter coats when the weather gets warm. Often, wildlife photographers capture photos of animals in winter when their coats are thick and vibrant. While animal winter coats look beautiful in pictures, they’re not useful in the hot summer months. The fur gradually sheds off, leaving coyotes looking thinner and sometimes patchy. This is also why the red foxes tend to look scruffier in the summertime. Drop by as the weather gets cooler and you’ll start to see the animals with thicker coats.

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