Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Let Us Now Praise Famous Canids

Just a quick hit here about something that piqued my annoyance (not that it takes much, you know).

As many saw as the "cute" feature that rounds out broadcast news programs, a coyote made a visit to a Chicago Quizno's. It maimed no one and got taken away (angrily) by the city's animal control.

Amusingly, there's not much else to report. Coyote--he come, he go. The AP reported in a wire service piece that the event isn't even uncommon, that the city's animal control group captures some dozen or so of the weedy guys--gals, actually, I suppose--inside city limits (read: exclusively urban areas) each year. Incidentally, they take them to the vet and then, they claim, the coyotes are released into the wild. Not too bad, all in all, especially when you compare it to what happens to the wildlife corralled in Miami as featured on Animal Planet's Miami Animal Police. A quick count of an episode I watched a couple weeks back had five of six "out of place" wild animals put down by city ordinance, not danger.

Anyway, the part that annoyed me was the ridiculous coverage. I know papers and news shows have to be sold. Yet, unsurprisingly, the scientific fact didn't match the situation, especially in the headlines. The best/worst was ABC News video link (there's an ad first) to the story: "Coyote Wolfs Out at Sub Shop."

Let's get this on the record for good measure. Canis lupus (the common gray wolf) is not Canis latrans (the common coyote). I think that the categorical difference here should be enough; I won't even burden us with the scientific facts that go with all this. The top level should be enough here. Maybe I'm just annoyed that ABC didn't even bother getting the phrase "wolfs down" correct. To be fair, though, it didn't eat anything so the direct obejct for that phrase would be lacking. Even worse, if they meant that the coyote was acting like a wolf, as we mean people act like swine when they "pig out" by getting down on some food, it still didn't match up. The coyote basically stalked around, didn't bother anyone, and--and I'm just guessing here, people--wondered why the hell nobody was dropping a sandwich for him. Admit it: Quizno's smells good.

I'd like to say that there's some complexity at work here on ABC's part, that they were really thinking hard about the comparisons between wolves and coyotes. That maybe they meant the mysterious, almost unpredictable actions of wolves like Barry Lopez talks about in Of Wolves and Men. "Are wolves like this?" he asks. "Maybe, sometimes" he hears. In that way maybe the coyote was being like a wolf and was dropping by Quizno's for reasons we can't know. I wouldn't mind. Given that some people I know have had varied, fairly benign experiences with coyotes, I might be like the people who sat around and finished their sandwiches, more amused by the occurrence than threatened. Maybe. I can't be sure since I wasn't there.

In any event, I can be pretty sure that ABC was being clever, not smart. Not a big deal in the long run, but it did make me want to go learn more about coyotes. So there's a small plus, also probably not their point, either.


MBQ said...

On the downside, now I want Quiznos for dinner and I have a paper to write. So thanks.

I am fascinated by how the media treats these "wild animals in the town and city" stories. They're either tragic (when someone gets hurt) or they're amusing (when no one gets hurt), but the stories are rarely relevant.

National Geographic had an ep of Hunter Hunted on the other night about cougar attacks on Vancouver Island and they actually went into why this happens. (And why it happens to such a high degree on this particular island.) It always reassures me when you see interviews with people who live/vacation there who don't have much animosity towards the cougars for sometimes trying to eat them. They had interviews with attack victims who understand why it happened and while they're not volunteering to get attacked again, they're not calling for hit squads to be let loose, either. But if a wild animal shows up somewhere in Miami, it gets put down by city ordinance no matter where it was or what it was doing.

In a weird coincidence of television viewing, House decided this past week to take a vacation on Vancouver Island, so maybe a cougar will be making a guest appearance next week.

Tommbert said...

If a cougar ate House, wouldn't it immediately become addicted to perscription painkillers?

On the same note as Vancouver Island, the newest issue of Backpacker has a column about how to go out and view resurgent predator populations, in particular the gray wolf, jaguar, and the cougar. While I'm not sure they should be giving the specific instructions they do for a number of reasons--poaching a fragile recovery being just one--there's something weird about planning a predator vacation. Especially since they don't even make it seem like it would be dangerous in the slightest. All they mention at the bottom is this: "Safety Tip: Keep your distance from any predator, and report sightings to local authorities." Thanks, Backpacker.

All this, I might add, next to a four paragraph point/counterpoint on poisoning lakes to kill invasive fish species. What a weird flipping magazine.

pjschnei said...

Yo, Kilgortrout, sorry to hear about Vonnegut. You turned me on to his writing and I've enjoyed every one of his books that I've read. Just wanted to express my condolences. Hope all is well. Give me a call if you are ever at the Wellington! My number is the same. Same goes for you Gage.