From Donkeys to Goldfish

The truth is that I actually like coyotes – I have a fondness for canids of all stripes – especially dogs, but coyotes are stars in terms of their ability to adapt and survive utilizing claw, tooth, and intellect. There are many stories of urban coyotes learning to ride subways late at night, travelling across cities through flood control channels, and other remarkable adaptations. How can you not admire an intelligent creature like that co-existing with us on this fragile planet?

The problem is that coyotes are opportunistic hunters, eating anything they can catch and kill. And they’re smart about it, using various techniques that give them the edge. A coyote can kill and eat a dog, for example, that’s bigger and stronger than them by simply outsmarting them. They can wear a dog out, or ambush them. This is a problem for me, because I have a dog who’s my canine companion, and I care about her as much (if not more) than most people. As much as I admire coyotes, I’m not willing to feed them my precious dog.

Most land-owners that surround Cielito Lindo Ranch would have no problem shooting, poisoning, or trapping a coyote. That’s not how we roll at CLR — so what’s the answer? Donkeys of course!

Besides being adorably cute, donkeys are fierce coyote fighters. They don’t fear coyotes at all, and they use their own equine kung-fu fighting style to battle them and keep them far away. Their attack involves chasing the coyotes with their head down in a “charging bull” style, as well as stomping them with their front hooves, and also kicking them with rear legs, which is topped off by biting them with very strong teeth and jaws. All the while braying at the top of their lungs to alert the entire county to what’s going on – and I’m also convinced that the bray is some kind of sonic attack – but I can’t be sure.

And donkeys even deploy a deeper strategy. The jenny (the female) stays with the herd (which includes all family members, including chicken, horses, family dogs, etc.)  and is ready to implement donkey-style kung-fu, while the jack (the male) goes in hot pursuit of the offending coyotes. This way the coyotes can’t effectively use their technique of luring the donkey away from the herd while their coyote cohorts attack the undefended herd. Smart donkeys!

So, I added donkeys to the shopping list! (Did I mention they’re cute too?)

Not too far from CLR is a wonderful place called Kiva RV Resort and Horse Hotel (a mouthful). If you go to the site right away  you’ll see that they haven’t removed Flax and Pumpkin from their website yet – and they should because those two “donks” now live at CLR! They are the new official CLR Coyote Patrol. I’ve already got their uniforms on order.

Flax and Pumpkin are nothing like what I expected. Let me share with you what donkeys are like to live with:

  • These two are friendly – friendlier than friendly dogs. They follow me around everywhere. They like being scratched, and they seem want to participate in everything I do. I swear, if I let them they’d get in the car with me and ride to the market. They’ve never kicked any of the dogs – even when the dogs have been obnoxious. And, their friendliness extends to the neighborhood as well. They patrol the perimeter of the CLR ranch property, and will greet anyone who drives by. They truly are neighborhood ambassadors.
  • They are adorable. They have the sweetest nature, and they’re cute. I think this is how they get away with so much. Even when they’re not interacting with you, they’ll be scratching each other, walking in tandem, or just wandering around looking irresistible. They love to be paid attention to, and scratched, and played with, so they’re good fun for everyone.
  • They are trouble makers. They have a deep curiosity about everything. They will poke their big noses into your car, your cabin, your grocery bag – anything. They nibble on, taste, push, investigate and play with everything they can get access too – sometimes destructively. Flax has destroyed a recycled rubber welcome mat, he’s bitten a trailer umbilical cord (with I was able to fix) and he’s even taken to squeezing my dog’s tennis ball toy (which squeaks). They are little devils sometimes!
  • They are tough. Unlike the fragile and sensitive horses, the “donks” eat anything, their hides are impervious to any attack (insect or otherwise), they don’t get colic, they don’t get cold, and they can take on anything you throw at them in stride. Check out the Wikipedia article on donkeys and you’ll discover they’re originally from Africa, and you can tell that they’re tough enough to survive anything.
  • They are strong. A donkey can easily carry thirty percent of their body weight. Horses can’t touch that. And when a donkey works, they do it without any effort. They work, and they do it with ease.
  • They are natural comedians. They’ve been domesticated and living in close quarters with man for over six thousand years, so they’ve been selectively bred, in part, for their personalities. Flax is a comedian, and if he doesn’t make you laugh once a day, you’ve got a black heart. Pumpkin is the sweet damsel, but she’s got a funny streak as well. In one episode Flax snuck into an off-limits area where a clothes line happen to be. The image of a donkey running away from camp at top speed with a bra in his mouth is funny – no question about it.

So, the donks ended up being much more than coyote protection – they’ve started to earn their way into the family of residents and staff here at CLR.

Sam and Flax

So, what could go wrong with this idyllic picture? Friendly donkeys – no more coyotes… perfect, right? Well… a simple act of non-lethal coyote control is indeed an act of tampering with the “circle of life” and there are always consequences!

Here is the chain of events in our case of tampering with nature:

1.       We had coyotes. We wanted to protect our four legged friends from them non-lethally – so we got two donkeys.

2.       The donkeys chased the coyotes away. Yay!

3.       After a few days, we noticed that large herds of wild antelope started showing up on the ranch. Yes, this is the home where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play.

4.       The antelope discovered the “drinker” – this is the water supply we provide for the horses and donkeys.

5.       The drinker has a mini eco-system in it to control potential mosquito infestation. It has gold-fish, mare’s tail, snails, and lily pads in it. The gold-fish eat the mosquito larva, the mare’s tail and the snails keep the water clear and the lily pads provide the gold-fish a place to hide from predators.

6.       The antelope discovered that lily pads are delicious, and they ate them all.

7.       With the lily pads gone, the gold-fish had no place to hide.

8.       The gold fish were eaten (at least some of them) by some grateful predator. Yum.

9.       One hundred and twenty dollars will need to spend to buy new lilly pads. Ouch.

Sam and Pumpkin

What a pain! How do you solve this predicament? Can’t get rid of the donkeys – need them. Can’t shoot the antelope – we’d ever do that. What to do?!

Well, the good news is that the problem solved itself. The horses, it turns out, didn’t exactly like the antelope elbowing in on their territory, so they’ve been chasing the antelope away. Also in the good-news category, amazingly the lily pads sprouted new leaves and saved themselves. And thankfully some of the fish survived.

So the imbalance in the circle of life was only temporary. The system self-repaired despite our efforts.

My effort to save a dog killed a gold-fish or two. A fair trade I suppose. I will say this, however – every time I tamper with nature’s way, I’ll think deep next time, and we’ll see how good I am at anticipating the results of my actions.

I’ve heard of the Great Law of the Iroquois – which holds appropriate to think seven generations ahead (a couple hundred years into the future) and decide whether the decisions they make today would benefit their children seven generations into the future. I have found that this deeper thinking can help you in the short term also.



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