Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Environmental Science and Anthropology
Eastern coyotes (Canis latrans var) have confounded the scientific and social boundaries established by postcolonial United States. The first eastern coyote specimen on record comes from Otis, Massachusetts in 1957. At the time, this unknown and unnamed wolf-like creature sparked fear amongst human residents of the Northeastern United States. Threatened by the presence of this predator, Northeasterners launched coyote killing efforts similar to the eradication campaigns that had previously failed in the Western United States. Today, Massachusetts officials estimate that 11,500 eastern coyotes occupy the state, living amongst people and pets in every county. This abundance of eastern coyotes and proximity to people are now common in the Northeast. Pulling from 253 historical newspaper articles and 33 contemporary ethnographic interviews, I explore how western scientific thought has instilled categorical boundaries that are temporally reflected in Northeasterners’ perceptions of the eastern coyote. I aim to illustrate that over time, conceptual boundaries formed through Cartesian dualism and perpetuated by an evolving socio-ecological climate have constructed how Northeasterners perceive the canid. These boundaries have been maintained through the eugenic desire to promote purity; broken by the unique adaptability of the eastern coyote; and reshaped to prioritize the canid as an ecologically and aesthetically valuable creature with which Northeasterners must coexist. Today, Northeasterners’ attitudes towards eastern coyotes are oriented towards coexistence. Although this trend is generally apparent, some people still hold varying opinions regarding the threat posed by coyotes. However, these concerns are not as divisive, nor as harsh as those of the past. These new positive perceptions correlate with a shifting social climate that prioritizes inclusivity and reformed cultural expectations that challenge historical notions of social status, such that socio-cultural factors have come to shape these regional socio-ecological relations. The dynamic construction of this controversial canid reveals the power of society in defining the line between human-wildlife “conflict” and interspecies relationships based upon “coexistence.” This study thus illuminates the beginning of efforts to decolonize the western ecological mind and deconstruct the nature/culture dichotomy in a regional context. While Northeasterners of the past constructed the eastern coyote as a “vile varmint,” Northeasterners of the present have transformed the eastern coyote into a “wild animal that is here to stay.”
Moses, Kayleigh, "Constructing the Eastern Coyote: A temporal analysis of the scientific and social production of a controversial Northeastern canid". Senior Theses, Trinity College, Hartford, CT 2022.
Trinity College Digital Repository, https://digitalrepository.trincoll.edu/theses/949
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