Hakuna Matata: Coyote filmed waiting for his badger buddy to follow him into highway underpass in California


Mike Moffitt, San Francisco Chronicle

Wily coyotes don’t need Acme Jet Propelled Tennis Shoes to catch their prey, but sometimes a sidekick comes in handy.

During a recent study of how wildlife interacts with major roadways near Gilroy, one of more than 50 remote-sensor cameras captured an animal odd couple using a culvert to cross under a highway.

The amusing video shows a coyote dancing like an eager puppy at the culvert entrance to coax its pal, a badger, to follow him into the pipe. Once inside the culvert, the coyote turns around to make sure the badger is keeping up.

The Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), which posted the footage Tuesday, noted “this shared use of a crossing structure might be the first observation of its kind, anywhere.”

Coyotes teaming up with badgers to hunt ground squirrels, rabbits and other rodents is a known phenomenon, and one familiar to Native Americans for centuries. Most of the time (90 percent, according to a study in Wyoming’s Elk Refuge), the partnership involves one coyote and one badger.

Since they feed on the same prey, one might think that the carnivores would be enemies or at least competitors. When they do catch an animal, badgers and coyotes don’t share the kill, so why bother with the buddy system at all?

The theory is that by combining forces, coyotes and badgers increase the odds of a successful hunt, and even though one might feast on the lion’s share of the spoils, in the long run both creatures get enough meat to keep them fed.

Coyotes are fleet-footed and nimble, excellent at pursuing prey on open terrain. Badgers are too slow to chase prey, but they can out-dig coyotes.

So when the a badger bores into a burrow to flush a gopher, for example, the coyote might be waiting outside the hole ready to pounce.

On the other hand, if a coyote chases a critter underground, the badger could use its subterranean skills to score a meal.

“Coyotes with badgers consumed prey at higher rates and had an expanded habitat base and lower locomotion costs,” according to the authors of the National Elk Refuge study.

The coyote-badger culvert crossing was just one of numerous interactions involving wildlife recorded by cameras at bridges and culverts near the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains for the Peninsula Open Space Trust’s survey.

“I have found that this topic tends to be of broad interest to people I meet out in the community — the idea that roads can present challenges and threats to wildlife — and at the same time, we consistently find that animals are able to locate and use features that provide them with safe passage underneath the road surface,” the trust’s wildlife linkages program manager, Neil Sharma, says in POST’s blog.

The survey’s goal, he adds, is to ensure that wildlife can move, adapt and thrive in the region in the face of a changing landscape and climate.

Other examples of POST’s wildlife videos can be found here.

Mike Moffitt is an SFGATE Digital Reporter. Email: moffitt@sfgate.com. Twitter: @Mike_at_SFGate

———

©2020 the San Francisco Chronicle

Visit the San Francisco Chronicle at www.sfchronicle.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.