About two months ago, I heard the telltale sound of coyotes in Memorial Park. The moon was out on a weekend evening after dark, and I was cranking out an easy five-miler around the Seymour Lieberman trail as I often do, when the high-pitched howling leapt out from the patch of woods alongside the path.
“What is that?” a woman at the water fountain asked me, her dog seemingly perplexed at her side. But I could tell she already knew.
“Coyotes?” I replied. It seemed unusual that coyotes would hang out near the running trail, frequented by hundreds of exercise enthusiasts on the daily, but then again, this is also a prime area for bunnies—at dusk, they come out by the dozens along the path and seem a likely delicacy for a coyote.
Well, reader, last Sunday (Nov. 24) around 6:30 p.m., I finally came face to face with the coyotes. It was about an hour and a half after sundown. I rounded a bend on the northwest portion of the Seymour Lieberman when I spotted them. A full-grown coyote ran from the woods along the trail and out into the street—there was no traffic—and another cautiously followed. I kept running, got closer—10 feet away, perhaps—and another bolted out to join them. I was mesmerized.
So was another runner heading in my direction. "COYOTES!” he yelled toward me.
“I KNOW,” I yelled back, both of us watching as they headed toward the woods across the street, their tails down, their interest in human interaction nonexistent.
There are about 100-plus acres of wild land that coyotes live among in Memorial Park, and they primarily feed on our area's native rodents, says Conservation Director Carolyn White, including hispid cotton rats, Eastern woodrats, and the fulvous harvest mouse. Often maligned as an urban and rural nuisance, the coyote has thrived across America as larger predators have sadly disappeared and despite some half a million coyotes being killed per year. Houston has had its share of concerns (including very recently) about urban coyotes, but the animal does play a vital role in the park and in grassland ecosystems, especially when it comes to keeping rodent populations in check.
During the last biological assessment of wildlife by the Memorial Park Conservancy, conducted in 2016, the coyote was found to be the largest mammal in the park, though White isn't certain about how many are living out there now. "I’d be surprised if there’s more than 10 at any one time," she says.
The coyote kind of looks like a scragglier wolf. According to Texas Parks & Wildlife, they typically weigh 25 to 40 pounds and are highly intelligent, monogamous, opportunistic (i.e. scrappy), and mostly nocturnal animals.
They're likely to continue thriving in Memorial Park once the land bridge is constructed in 2022 as well, which will help them avoid high-speed traffic along Memorial Drive. But as for being the only large mammal in the park? These coyotes may now have some competition.
Thanks to a camera in an area in the Northwestern-most section of the park, near the polo fields, says White, “We’ve located a gray fox.”
If you see a coyote in Memorial Park, do not approach it. Do not attempt to feed it. And remember, keep you dogs on a leash—it's the law.