The coyote & the badger

This week we licensed this image to become a part of a life-sized diorama in the Manitoba  Museum, in Winnipeg, Canada. I’ll tell you its story.



One early spring afternoon as I returned to camp after a day of searching for bobcats which I had heard were hunting in the prairie dog towns in Badlands National Park, SD, I saw this coyote-badger pair hunting prairie dogs together.  I’d read of this unusual hunting partnership, and while I’ve photographed badger and coyotes numerous times separately while hiking the hills between Gardiner and Mammoth or along the sage-covered prairies in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park, I’d never seen this legendary teamwork in action. 


I quickly pulled the van over to watch. In general, the badgers hunting strategy is to dig furiously with their long sturdy nails, and attempt to dig out their prey.  Prairie dog survival strategy is to burrow many connected tunnels to confuse the predator and make escape possible. While the badger is busy at one hole, the rodent is quickly scurrying out a tunnel on the far side of the town, and squealing warning to the others. 


I watched eagerly as the badger quickly dug down into one burrow while the coyote watched several “exit” holes. The badger stayed underground for about 15 minutes before popping back out the original hole. Neither predator had a meal. The badger quit the first hole and moved on to a second and then a third following the same pattern of rapid digging and disappearing out of sight for a time. 



The coyote showed excitement initially and intently kept watch at a nearby hole,  As time went by he laid down but still waited expectantly. After 30 minutes or so it got up, sniffed a few holes and trotted off through the large prairie dog town amid some warning barks by a few watchful prairie dogs guards.


Coyotes hunt by smell and agility—quickly pouncing when catching the prey unexpectedly out in the open.  Coyotes are smart, have keen hearing, adaptable and are opportunists, recognizing a free meal opportunity for the alert and patient.  I have read stories from others who have watched this behavior. Some observers even claim the coyote occasionally shares its catch when success was due to the badger’s work. 


I find it difficult to believe in this “sharing” cooperation. I personally believe the coyote just tags along and there isn’t much the badger can do about it.  Perhaps the advantage for the badger is that an escaping ground squirrel sees the coyote before leaving its hole and turns around only to run into the badger underground.  And when this occurs I don’t believe the badger shares its catch either.  To the victor goes the spoils.


I stayed for another 1/2 hr but with darkness coming on I never learned the rest of the story.  I watched this area for several days afterward but saw no further sign of the two predators.


I did see the bobcat several times but only with binoculars. Not every hunt is successful, nor is every photo trip.