The Camera Trap

Caught on Camera: The Presidio’s Coyotes When People Aren’t Around

April 8, 2019
(Courtesy Jonathan Young, Presidio Trust)

The coyotes of the Presidio inhabit that liminal space between groomed semi-nature and manmade structures that is so characteristic of the San Francisco park.  They’re not what people think of first when they think of the city, but they’re residents all the same, closely monitored and protected as long as they stay within the park’s borders.

Most of the coyotes won’t stay within the Presidio’s relatively safe confines. They strike out to find their own territory, leaving only a few behind to help raise the next batch of pups. Several have gone south, some creating new lives in the Cupertino area, world’s away from San Francisco’s chaotic urban energy. One animal was tracked down to the Crystal Springs Reservoir on the Peninsula by a research group out of UC Santa Cruz. The researchers sent a video to the Presidio Trust, showing both the Presidio coyote and a second companion. It was the first successfully dispersed animal, and the longest lived.

Monitoring and protecting them has been the job of ecologist Jonathan Young and the Presidio Trust, who Bay Nature covered in January 2018. Since last year’s article, Young and his team have continued to track and collar even more coyotes — 16 more, to be exact, with 14 of them pups.

(Courtesy Jonathan Young, Presidio Trust)

The big problem with the collars is that they only last a year before the battery runs down. Unfortunately, of the collared coyotes born within the Presidio, most die before the battery does, typically run down by vehicles. Caltrans reports what they find and when they find it; any collared or ear-tagged coyote originates in the Presidio. Hope shines through in rare moments though. Recently, a female long-assumed dead, her collar’s batteries having already run out, was spotted in Candlestick Park by a citizen scientist who sent in a picture to the Trust.

(Courtesy Jonathan Young, Presidio Trust)

Coyotes are also making their mark on the human population of San Francisco. Residents of Bernal Hill have been watching a struggle unfold between “their” neighborhood coyote, a lone older female that they’ve become accustomed to — and an interloper caught and collared in the Presidio. For now, as coyote observer Janet Kessler has described the interaction on her blog Coyote Yipps, the interloper has replaced Bernal Hill’s beloved matriarch, the rich drama having played out in a series of intense scraps.

coyote carries raccoon
A coyote carries a raccoon through the Presidio. (Courtesy Jonathan Young, Presidio Trust)

Like it or not, the coyotes are here to stay, whether within the Presidio or dispersing throughout the Bay. Their journeys are fascinating and their lives complex. Co-existence is possible if we see the coyotes as the unique individuals they are, rather than simply pests.

About the Author

Elizabeth Rogers is a writer based on the Peninsula. She writes Bay Nature's monthly Camera Trap column.