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MacArthur Park Coyote Died for Our Ecological Sins

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A different coyote in Griffith Park | Photo: Kent Wang/Flickr/Creative Commons Licens

The coyote called C-146 had only worn her radio collar for two months before she turned up dead, near a lake inside MacArthur Park. Her lifeless body was discovered soaking wet and covered in algae on December 4, and the results of her necropsy revealed what most already suspected: she died because she drowned.

While National Park Service researchers only gained but a brief glimpse into the young canid's life, the information and data she provided was still enormously revealing.

Not much is known about how LA's coyotes survive our urban jungle; the NPS only began studying LA's most urban coyotes last May, while their previous focus had been on those in the more natural landscapes of the Santa Monica Mountains.

SoCal Connected takes a look at Los Angeles' coyotes in this segment, which airs January 27.

C-146 was first captured near the Los Angeles River in what NPS biologists believed was her parents' home range. Camera trap photos revealed that her pack included two adults, presumably her parents, and two other juveniles, which were ostensibly her siblings. Newborn coyotes will stay with their parents for at least a year, sometimes longer. But just one month after she was trapped and collared, C-146 set off in search of new opportunities.

Despite her urban heritage, the young female stuck mostly to the few scraps of green space scattered across the city and especially near the L.A. River. Compared to the other coyotes that NPS researchers have tracked, she offered a different model of what life can look like for a wild animal in a mega-city like Los Angeles, said NPS biologist Justin Brown.

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This camera trap photo shows either C-146 or one of her packmates. | Photo: NPS

Brown and his colleagues first trapped her in northeast L.A., though she travelled as far south as downtown by moving along the river. She survived crossing the 5 freeway, and wound up in Elysian Park. "There are lots of other coyotes in there, and you think they would have kicked her out, but she got to bounce around there for a week and a half," says Brown. It's a surprise that an animal her age would have been permitted to spend that long in a territory controlled by an unfamiliar pack.

She spent another couple weeks in another city park before finding her way to MacArthur Park, where she ultimately met her end. "She gave us a glimpse at what a young animal is forced to do in an urban environment," says Brown.

The necropsy, which was performed by the California Animal Health and Food Safety Lab in San Bernardino revealed high levels of anticoagulant rodenticides, highly toxic rat poisons that easily find their way up the food chain where they wreak havoc on our carnivorous neighbors. Over the last twenty years, nearly 90 percent of bobcats, coyotes, and mountain lions evaluated by NPS researchers have tested positive for exposure to at least one type of anticoagulant rat poison.

These toxins kill wildlife in ways you'd expect an anticoagulant to kill: internal bleeding, continuous nosebleeds, and so on. But they also suppress the animals' natural immune systems, making it hard for them to fight off other unrelated diseases like mange, which hit mountain lion P-22 hard in the spring of 2014.

Nobody knows why C-146 found herself in the lake at MacArthur Park. She might have been chasing after a tasty bird, but one haunting possibility points to yet another side effect of high levels of anticoagulants found in her system. Animals become dehydrated when exposed to those poisons, and she might have fallen in while attempting to slake her thirst. Because the lake is lined with cement, she would have had an incredibly difficult time climbing out.

If that is indeed what happened, her death falls squarely on our shoulders.

In some ways, this is what it means to be a wild animal living in the big city. "Living in an urban environment means that these animals have to learn how to deal with people," says Brown. "But we also do lots of things that make it much more difficult for animals to persist."

We can either engineer a city in spite of the animals that will still learn to exploit every available niche in our neighborhoods, or we can choose to design our neighborhoods and our homes with the well being of our non-human neighbors in mind.

And that goes beyond the obvious strategies of using alternative rodenticides and building wildlife crossings over busy highways. It's things like not cement-lining the water features that ought to be available for our wildlife. It's not leaving pet food - or unattended pets - outside, an all-too-easy buffet for a hungry coyote. It's picking up fallen fruit, securing our garbage, planting native species.

This is a vision for Los Angeles that's not hard too imagine; the unfortunate alternative is already playing out to the south while here we mourn the loss of yet another urban carnivore.

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