Among the more striking members of our island's wildlife population is a relative newcomer, the coyote. SIPOA's wildlife map shows increasing coyote sightings along the western and southern marshes of the island starting in 2020, and some residents are familiar, on a cool winter's night, with the eerie howls of these top predators.
Once confined to western and Plains states, coyotes are now present throughout the United States, first reported in the 1970's in upstate South Carolina, where they had been imported to be hunted by hounds in rural Pickens and Oconee counties during competitive, and illegal, night hunts. (The state's DNR is quick to insist that the animals were never imported by the state to control deer populations.) Coyotes are now established throughout the state and, in the Lowcountry, are frequently seen on beaches and in marshes where they prey on crabs, rabbits, deer fawns, birds and, as our island's turtle patrol reports more frequently during nesting season, on turtle eggs.
Sometimes mistaken for foxes, these intelligent canids typically stand about two feet tall, with a narrow muzzle, pointed ears, and grayish to reddish-gray fur. They form breeding pairs early each year, mating during the winter and producing three or four pups which both parents tend and feed until the cubs are weaned in the spring. The cubs are reared in dens fashioned out of reeds and brush (which is why the animals are so frequently seen around marshes), or will take over another animal's abandoned nest hole. Once the cubs reach adulthood, the group disperses to hunt in packs. Coyotes are capable of mating with domestic dogs, but that's a rare occurrence and the offspring generally don't survive into adulthood.
Although they generally avoid human contact, coyotes can attack domestic pets left unguarded outdoors. Hunting coyotes is allowed throughout the state year-round with a valid license, but most of the victims are "incidental kill" associated with deer hunting or nuisance animals removed by contract hunting. As with all our island's wildlife, it's best to admire these resourceful animals from a distance.