On a cold and quiet school morning in February about ten years ago, I was toasting waffles when the phone rang. It was my next-door neighbor. She didn't usually call that early unless one of our kids had run away to her house. (Read that here.) Anyway, she told me that a wolf was attacking a deer under the treehouse in our backyard. I repeated her incredible message out loud to the four waffle-eaters sitting at the table.
A wolf is attacking a deer under our treehouse.
That sort of statement uttered in a house of young boys is the verbal equivalent of a burst pinata spewing candy. The transformation from sleepy to maximum readiness alert is immediate. Before you could say 'circle of life', kids vacated chairs and dashed to the window in a pandemonium of limbs, forks, and slippers.
Indeed, as we watched, a wolf, (a wolf!) had successfully taken down a mature deer and was about to devour it. The deer's body was sort of wrapped around a tree in a way that aided the wolf's efforts and we stared, shocked, as he tore open the deer, bit into a chunk, and retreated with his meal into the deeper woods for a while. Then, a moment later, back he trotted for more.
This went on for some time. The waffles got soggy as our snowy yard began to resemble the wood chipper scene in Fargo. Quickly and mysteriously, word spread around the 'hood, like sonar waves or something. Because just as sharks are drawn to blood in the water, boys are drawn to blood in the snow. A growing clump of nervous but excited lads gathered on the end of our driveway, pretending bravado with comments like, "That's gotta hurt!" and "Lets' see if that wolf would eat Willie." Oh, how they despised the bus driver that day.
After the kids got on the bus, I pulled out the video camera. You can watch my stellar footage below. It's a minute long.
Did you watch the video? Good. Now, let's talk about the question that you might be asking right about now. Is it really a wolf? Because it might be a coyote.
Well, whenever I am faced with a difficult question, I consult the most reliable source available to me at a moment's notice: my dad. He knows everything. Yeah yeah yeah. You think I'm exaggerating but read on and you'll see that I'm not.
I called him on the phone. "So, Baba, there's either a wolf or a coyote in our backyard right now, and he just killed a deer! I don't think he's scrawny enough to be a coyote but can he actually be a wolf?"
His response: "Let me ask you a question. When he killed the deer, did he eat the heart or the intestines first?"
You see, my dad is a physician with a legitimate talent as a diagnostician, even over the phone. Especially over the phone! He can deduce disease and pestilence with a simple 5-minute questionnaire and he is rarely wrong. It's always, "Let me ask you a question. This rash. Do the edges look like lace?"
So back to his question about what body part the lupine had eaten first -- actually, we saw the animal eat what looked like the liver or maybe the heart right off the bat. It wasn't till its fourth or fifth trip back for more that we saw it drag out the entrails. My husband couldn't get over how much it looked like the cartoon depiction of sausage links.
I reported this to my father, and his response: "It's a wolf! Wolves eat the organs first. Coyotes eat the intestines first." I asked how he came to know such a handy fact. "We had wolves in Iran, growing up. I just know."
My husband was not satisfied with this strange method of identification. It sounded like an urban myth if there are urban myths in the Iranian countryside. He sent the video to the Department of Natural Resources. They made several illuminating statements: it was too small to be a wolf; wolves hadn't been spotted this far south in Wisconsin; it was too bulky to be a coyote, given that this was the end of a harsh winter; its tail was more wolflike; it is rare for a coyote to hunt alone or to successfully take down a mature deer on its own.
After all that inconclusive pontificating, the dude from the DNR said it was most likely a hunger-emboldened coyote.
I preferred my dad's answer, and for the past ten years, we've regaled friends visiting from the Big City with the story of our backyard wolf.
Until recently. Scientific evidence about a new breed named a 'coywolf' seems to prove that both the DNR and Baba were right. This animal contains DNA from wolf, coyote, and dog. You can read more about the coywolf here, but it has evolved over the last half century as wolves were forced to mate with dogs and coyotes. The resulting animal might be more formidable than its ancestor. The scientists call it an adaptive hunter, an apex species, a super predator.
I honestly get verklempt and emotional thinking about the science. That an organism has diversified right before our eyes? Amazing!
Then I remember the blood that resulted from the "diversification of an organism" and how I had to pay a guy named 'Ron' fifty bucks to pick up the deer bits that were scattered on the snow like sprinkles on a cupcake. Evolution is great in textbooks. But not in my backyard.
The ghostly deer in the top photo is for sale in the shop. It looks less meaty than the deer that the coywolf ate. Nevertheless, I thought it fit this post. You are probably creeped out by it, but I think there's something tragically beautiful about it. Click here for more information. Photo by Renn Kuhnen.
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