Surrounded by coyotes

I have spent lots of days and nights (easily 200+) in the desert around this mountain when I worked as an undergraduate field assistant at the University of Arizona Mammal Museum. It is Ragged Top, at the northern end of the Silverbell Mountains, northwest of Tucson, Arizona. The desert here is very lush, with just about every plant and animal species in the Sonoran Desert ecosystem.

I assisted graduate students with live-trapping and measuring and then releasing wild desert mice to study their populations. On cold nights the mice would get torpid if they spent too much time above ground in a trap (torpid: a state of suspended/sluggish physical activity, like hibernation). We would carry them in our pockets until they warmed up, then put them back near where they came from. I could tell they were coming back to life when I felt them moving around in my shirt and pants pockets!

200+ traps were spread out in the square shape, which made about a 5 mile walk. I remember checking the traps one very dark night, alone. At one point I heard noises around me. My heart started beating a bit faster.  Then I heard a hushed “yip”, a sharp, high pitched bark. I was surrounded by coyotes. An unsettling, but not frightening situation once I realized they were coyotes; mountain lions live here, too. They became quiet. The “yip” probably came from an inexperienced youngster. I could hear them running around on both sides of me. They moved when I walked, and stopped when I stopped. I could only catch an occasional glimpse. They stayed just beyond the reach of my headlamp. How many? I didn’t know. At least 3 or 4 for sure. They were with me for a good distance. I think they were hoping that I would drop a mouse. Just in case, I carefully put each mouse near a hole. Oh, and then there were snakes …

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