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The tale of what Juanita ate in the wild

A Papago Legend

"Here at the Museum," Juanita began, "the keepers feed us and we don't have to worry about hunting for rats or beetles or an occasional wounded bird.

Out there in the wild, things are very different. A coyote is only as strong as her next meal, particularly when she has hungry pups to feed."

"What did you eat out there beyond the fences, mother?" Stephanie asked impatiently.

Juanita held the tip of her paw to her mouth, signaling silence. She did not like interruptions when she was telling her tales, except when the interruption was invited. She waited a full minute until all six of her children were paying attention.

"Out there we chased down the human's cows one night and their sheep the next," she said and showed her flashing coyote teeth.

"Really?" Benita Coyote uttered in amazement.

"No, children, we don't chase cows and sheep. Coyotes rarely attack the human's animals, though the humans blame us nearly every time one of their animals is mutilated. Humans rarely blame the wolves or the mountain lions or their neighbors' dogs."

"Like what Victor the mountain lion did to the deer," Alfred said, remembering the story which his mother had told him about the puma's attack back in the summer.

"Correct, Alfred. My diet was mostly made up of small wild animals which I encountered during my hunts. Field mice in the spring. An unwary rabbit in early summer. Grasshoppers in late summer were always plentiful. The fall and winter presented the hardest times because cold weather in the mountains keeps many wild animals and insects underground.

Still, I managed to feed on wild berries. The early fall was the best because the birds would come and gorge on overripe berries, then fall to the ground and stagger around because the berries made them dizzy. Oh, the birds I have eaten: blue jays and pine jays; tanagers and warblers; purple martins and finches. My favorite has always been the white-winged dove. They were plump and juicy and delightful to a coyote's taste buds."

"Did you ever kill one of the human's animals, mother?" Benita asked meekly.

"Only once, Benita. During one harsh winter, ice and snow covered the mountain meadows and trees. I had eaten only nuts and bits of dried cactus which I had stored in my den. I was starving. I headed for lower ground where I knew the humans lived in greater numbers. One moonlit night I snuck into a hen house and stole two chickens. The whole hen house was in an uproar. I knew the humans would come and investigate. So, I ran as fast as a coyote can with two chickens in its mouth."

"What did the humans do?" Benita asked.

"A man pointed a long rod in my direction. I heard a small clap of thunder and something whizzed by my head."

"That would be a rifle like the keepers sometimes carry," Tomas, the most observant coyote pup, added.

"Yes, I believe it was a rifle, Tomas. In any event, I dropped one of the chickens during my escape, but I carried the other to a safe distance before having dinner."

Juanita adjusted herself slightly and continued. "I have eaten other human food which they have discarded along roads or hiking paths: potato chips, hamburger rolls, bits of something called hot dogs, for example. These foods are okay, but I really prefer my food uncooked."

"I tasted a piece of crunchy orange corn which a human tossed in our exhibit last week," Stephanie said. "It tasted yukky. I like the food the keepers give us."

In the far corner of the den, Walter let out a hearty coyote yawn.

"Children, I think your father wants to go out and get ready to howl at the full moon," Juanita said.

"Can we go, too?" the coyote pups said in unison.

"Only grown coyotes can howl at the harvest moon," Walter instructed as he passed his children, bending down and licking each one, in turn, with the tip of his tongue. "You children can listen to the second tale your mother promised while I serenade in the distance." And, with that, Walter pranced outside into the light of the harvest moon.

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