We tend to think of wild animals as aloof, standoffish, sticking with their own. In reality, that’s actually far from the case – many species have relationships that benefit both parties.
One such long-known pairing is between coyotes (Canis latrans) and American badgers (Taxidea taxus). Across the North American continent, the two species will often join up to hunt burrowing animals together, the badger digging for the prey, the coyote chasing and pouncing above ground.
But a recent video has caught something entirely unexpected. As a coyote and a badger move in front of a wildlife surveillance camera operated by the Peninsula Open Space Trust, they appear to be playing.
This is the best thing you’ll see all day! 🐾
Our wildlife cameras spotted a #coyote and #badger together — the first time this type of behavior has been captured in the San Francisco #BayArea.https://t.co/YDcnhyiWL1 pic.twitter.com/qZQgcbwtTk
— Open Space Trust (@POST_fans) February 4, 2020
The coyote peeks out from the culvert, making a small play pounce and bow to something off to the right of the frame, wagging its tail. Then the badger cautiously slinks into view before the pair happily continue on their way, trotting lightly down the tunnel.
The video very quickly went explosively viral, with the original viral tweet at over 750,000 faves and counting.
“It’s not uncommon for badgers and coyotes to hunt together,” wrote the Trust’s Matt Dolkas in a blog post.
“When they work together this way, it’s a little easier for them to catch their next meals, prey species like ground squirrels. But to see them moving through a small tunnel (or culvert) like this while playing is pretty surprising.”
In addition, the video marks the first documentation of a coyote and a badger using a human-made structure – a concrete tunnel called a culvert designed to divert water to flow under a road – to travel safely.
And it’s the first evidence of coyote-badger partnership in the San Francisco Bay area.
The video was filmed as part of an ongoing project by the Peninsula Open Space Trust. They have set up 50 remote sensor cameras around the southern Santa Cruz Mountains to find out how wildlife interacts with major roadways.
This information will then be used to inform conservation efforts such as the expansion of safe wildlife habitats, and increasing the number of safe crossings. This will ideally help wildlife access a larger range for feeding, as well as neighbouring populations for mating, ensuring the genetic diversity that can be vital for keeping animals healthy.
“This work is increasingly important,” said Neal Sharma of the Peninsula Open Space Trust, “especially as we consider the impacts of climate change and the fact that wildlife need to be able to locate the resources they need for survival, now and into the future.”
And, of course, it’s now also shedding light on the relationship between coyote and badger. Although most of the observed hunting pairings have been exactly that – one-on-one pairings – the relationship has seemed to be based on benefit.
But, according to National Geographic, the body language between this pair suggests that they’re not just colleagues working together; they seem to have a closer relationship.
It’s impossible to tell without more information, of course, and it’s important not to anthropomorphise. But much stranger animal friendships have happened.
And it seems the world is stanning this adorable odd couple.
“This video of the coyote and badger is one of our favourites,” Sharma said, “and it’s clearly captured the hearts of people around the world.”