Mission Coyote


If there has ever been a creature that has been vilified and persecuted by man for simply existing, it is the coyote. This incredible canid has been subject to man’s brutality for many generations, but even in the face of insurmountable odds, the coyote has managed to thrive where many others have perished. Even the burden of urbanization and diminishing natural habitat and finite resources have not hindered this highly intelligent creature from thriving in a changing world. The reality is that many coyotes have actually assimilated with astonishing success to live alongside man in urban and semi-rural areas. 

These were the coyotes that I desperately wanted to photograph, the ones who lived in the shadows, that thrived in the fringes of the developed world. So, this was where I set out to photograph a wild coyote, not in the far reaches of a National Park, but in a semi urban area. In a landscape where the modern world met the natural world, a world where the ever-intrusive reaches of suburbia encroached on the last remaining pieces of habitat home to this remarkable predator. It was my goal to photograph this truly wild predator, near civilization, living not as our enemy but as our neighbor.

Coyotes have certainly thrived because of their acute survival instincts and incredibly diverse diet. These highly intelligent creatures are extremely aware of their surroundings and are easily able to identify and are extremely weary of any anomalies, humans being at the top of that list. Armed with an incredible sense of smell they never boldly run into any situation but rather approach all curiosities cautiously from a safe distance. This, along with their wise fear of humans has been the success story of this beautiful creature. I truly admire the coyote’s intelligence and survival instinct; ironically however, it was this which I truly admired that posed the largest hurdles for me in my quest to photograph them.

I knew that because I wanted to photograph this incredible predator in a semi urban habitat, I needed to focus my efforts near some sort of civilization, venturing deep into a completely wild environment would certainly increase my chances but would be in contrast to what I was trying to achieve. Fortunately, though I live right on the outskirts, where the urban world gives a breath to the countryside, and I knew that there were coyotes in the area from their frenetic chorus of calls every evening. I “knew” that given the large packs of coyotes in the area, I would be able to achieve this without “much effort” … oh how the coyote showed me otherwise.

Coyotes are native to North and Central America and even though they are believed to have originated from the Grey wolf. They are however classified as a completely independent species, even though they still retain many of the behavioral traits of their much larger brethren, like vocalizations, ecology and family structures. However, coyotes have miraculously thrived in the face of the same adversity that have destroyed wolf populations across North America. Maybe it’s their guile, their intelligence or perhaps their ability to evolve and adapt rapidly to an ever-changing world.

I was positive that there were resident packs in my area, so I decided to concentrate my initial efforts in the farmlands and countryside less than a mile from my home. This seemed like the most logical approach, because even though I had heard the coyotes back here a number of times vocalizing, I had never actually seen them. So, I decided to star exploring the area on foot for a few weeks before to search for any signs of these beautiful dogs. After finding what I thought was the best location, I set up my gear, and began a game of hide and seek which seemed to last an eternity.  My time in these back fields of north Texas were filled with excitement, frustration, doubt and ultimately a feeling of defeat, because months had passed, and seasons had changed but other than the echoes of howls on the horizon, I had not had the opportunity and pleasure to photograph a single one of these canids. I realized that either I had made some fundamental mistakes and the coyotes were aware of my presence… or they were simply out smarting me. I decided to start venturing out a little further, maybe to some area with a smaller human footprint, hoping that the coyotes in these areas would be less inclined to be overly cautious and weary of man. I started searching for these dogs, at the nearby Hagerman Wildlife Refuge, an area on the banks of Lake Texoma that was further into the countryside but still close enough to civilization. This as well proved to be a futile effort. I was beginning to feel extremely disheartened and, in an effort, to avoid getting burned out after months of no reward, I decided to move my focus to a family of beaver that I discovered while working on mission coyote. These beavers provided a welcomed respite from months of not achieving my goal and also proved to be very rewarding photographically. I would continue mission coyote sometime down the road, I clearly needed to reevaluate my entire strategy. 

There are moments when nature throws you a curve ball, it’s the moments that catch you by complete surprise that tend to be the most memorable… after months of failure, something incredible was about to happen.

It has been an incredibly harsh summer here, and the searing temperatures have seriously hindered my exploration and photography. However, with a pending trip to photograph the Great Wildebeest Migration, I was able to look beyond the fact that my last few weeks had been spent indoors rather than photographing in nature. Both myself and my family love the outdoors, but instead of getting up in arms about our extreme summer induced inactivity, we decided to use the time going out for dinners and exploring a wilderness that was foreign to us… the mall.

It was one such evening, driving home from an early dinner, while passing a beautiful field bordering the remanence of a forest, the last bit of natural habitat in that particular area, that we saw him. A beautiful coyote basking in the evening sun, and after months of searching for this incredible creature, there he was like a summer mirage. I couldn’t believe my eyes! That moment of euphoria quickly gave way to the realization that I finally had the moment I was looking for, but I did not have a camera of any sort. My wife, seeing the disappointment on my face, encourage me not to get disheartened but suggested that we rather head home and return with camera gear. It was close to dusk, so we rushed home, grabbed some gear and headed back to the area where we saw him last. We knew that time was of the essence because light was fading fast… needless to say, a number of traffic laws were “bent”.

Upon returning, there was no sign of the coyote, I expected this… but this time I knew for sure that he was in the area. This was the last bit of habitat left in the area, so it was just a case of locating him. I began searching the fields but nothing, then we drove down the small dirt road toward the forest, still nothing. With the last light disappearing beyond the horizon, we decided to call it quits and return another day, I had not actually spotted a coyote and knew where he lived, I was disappointed, but I knew where he lived so a glimmer hope was restored.

Then… as we were leaving the area, there he was, in a little outcrop where the dirt road met the service road. “OH, MY GOODNESS, THERE HE IS” I whisper yelled to my wife as I grabbed my camera and leaped out of the car that was still in motion.  This was the moment, this was the culmination of months of failed attempts, this was the reason for mission coyote, a truly wild predator living on the fringes of the developed world.

I managed to capture a few images of this beautiful creature before he disappeared into the dusk shrouded forest. I stood there, in shock, had this just happened? I finally managed to photograph a truly wild coyote, and not one living in the country side, but rather one living in an actual semi urban environment. That was in actual fact the ethos that I based mission coyote on, photographing this incredible predator living alongside man. 

When I embarked on mission coyote, I honestly really just wanted to photograph a coyote living near man, existing in the shadows of our artificial word. However, after months of failure, after months of searching, and finally after finally succeeding, the coyote taught me so much more than I expected. These incredibly beautiful, these highly intelligent creatures, showed me exactly why their story of survival has ultimately been one of success, that even in the face of insurmountable odds, they have been able to thrive. They have even taught me so much about myself as a wildlife photographer. Yes, I ended up getting the images that I wanted, but ultimately, I ended up getting so much more. I have developed the utmost respect and love for the for this beautiful canid, this enigma of the natural world, this predator that has been unjustly persecuted, this amazing being that has been tortured at the hands of man, and in the face of all this, where so many others have fallen, the coyote had managed to rise like a phoenix. 

Mission coyote has come to an end, and where I believed there would be a feeling of celebration, there is simply a bittersweet sentiment, maybe it’s because its an end of an adventure, one that I subconsciously didn’t want to end. 

To the coyotes, I say, thank you, run on…

Faizel Ismail