Battle for Survival – Coyote Style
So last week while watching an elk carcass at Chinese Gardens I was fortunate enough to observe the bison seemingly paying their last respects to a fallen fellow resident and fend off the coyotes from feeding on the remains. But the story didn’t end there…
The next morning revealed something had been voraciously feeding on the elk over night and it was getting down to slim pickings. In the pre-dawn light you could just make out some small canine figures in the midst and around the carcass. Daylight would unveil bloodied faces and a battle for the right to feed in Yellowstone.
A pair of very healthy looking coyotes had control of the carcass and were taking turns feeding while the other one watched and fed nervously. They had dibs on this dinner and weren’t looking forward to company. As I watched and photographed them feeding I noticed movement in the upper corner of the frame and here came another coyote towards the carcass. He moved cautiously with his head low and his nose up to the wind. This was going to be interesting.
As soon as the larger coyote saw the potential interloper he was en route to head off this threat to his breakfast. There was a tremendous amount of posturing with teeth bared and hackles up. Then the larger coyote pounced on the intruder and it was over just as quickly. They separated but there was still a lot of posturing and the hopeful visitor would eventually be run off by a series of lightning fast and vicious looking attacks. The smaller coyote was banished to wait by the banks of the icy Gardner River while the larger dog returned to his meal.
While thinking, “Wow that was intense,” another much smaller coyote moved in from behind me to apparently try his luck too. I steadied my camera for another battle series and much to my surprise the feeding pair relinquished the carcass with just some posturing and darting but nothing very physical. As I was trying to process why the pair would do this, the coyote that had been ostracized to the frigid banks decided this was unacceptable and made his move for the newcomer and to stake his claim at the table. After much back and forth they were able to establish their hierarchy and who would feed when and for how long.
It’s always amazing in Yellowstone to witness first hand the everyday battles for survival and how it all plays out. Nature can be very exciting and at the same time very cruel to watch. Above all it is a dance and harmony we can mostly only appreciate from the outside looking in. Brief glimpses into this ongoing saga is what keeps me coming back into the wilderness seeking nourishment like the coyotes.