I’ve always thought that nature photographers are some of the luckiest folks on the planet because we get to spend so much time in the natural world that we love and we see some of the most exhilirating sights and wonderous events that nature has to offer. But occasionally there’s a dark side. Yesterday was a difficult day in the field for me on Antelope Island.
Be forewarned that the photos are of documentary quality only and that at least one of them may be difficult for some to view.
When we spotted this coyote hunting in the grass for voles it was successful almost immediately and quickly swallowed its lunch. A few seconds later I noticed that it looked like it had caught another vole because I thought I could see the vole hanging out the left side of it’s mouth – the grasses were thick and it was difficult to tell.
Then we spotted another coyote about a quarter mile behind this one and within a few seconds this animal also caught sight of the second coyote. When it did so there was an instantantaneous reaction – it put its ears down, its tail between its legs and started running through the grass like a bat out of hell to get away from the second coyote. I fired off a few shots as it ran but certainly didn’t get anything to be proud of.
It wasn’t until I got home and processed the running shots that I knew something was terribly wrong. This image is atrocious because it’s a massive crop to show detail and because the coyote was running full speed but it does show fairly well the awful injury this animal had sustained. I’m no veterinarian or dentist but it appears to me that this coyote has had it’s lower left canine tooth pulled sideways out of the jaw bone, breaking the lower mandible in the process. The tooth seems to be hanging on only by some soft tissue and the lower lip has a serious droop. In addition this animal had noticable blood on its rump and the base of its tail.
I can only guess how this happened. Perhaps it was caused by a fight between the two coyotes – the obvious fear this animal demonstrated at the sight of the other coyote and the fact that it is now coyote breeding season (I observed two coyotes mating earlier this week) lead me in that direction. It’s also possible that there was some sort of altercation with one of the bison who are so plentiful on the island but I’m skeptical of that. I’ve seen and documented (here) disputes between coyotes and pronghorn so that’s possible too. I just don’t know…
The coyote ran a long ways to escape its apparent tormentor and didn’t begin to relax (or put its ears back up) until it had rounded a large hill and could no longer see the other coyote. This image shows the angle at which the tooth is hanging.
But even when it felt relatively safe it kept looking back to see if the second coyote was following.
There’s nothing to be done for this animal of course. The policy of Antelope Island State Park is to let nature take its course and I support that policy.
On a clinical level I fully realize that it’s a harsh world “out there” and that these kinds of events are commonplace in nature. Still, reality sometimes gives me a sucker punch. This was one of those days.