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Neal Sharma, POST’s Wildlife Linkages Program Manager, has seen thousands of animals on the remote cameras he and his research team have deployed near Gilroy. But nothing quite like the adorable video of the coyote and badger that went viral immediately after being shared on social media.
“This video of the coyote and badger is one of our favorites,” he says, “and it’s clearly captured the hearts of people around the world.”
In this extended video cut, we see these two were together for more than an hour and possibly even longer. This shared use of a human-made crossing structure by a coyote and badger might be the first observation of its kind, anywhere!
It’s been thrilling to see this video gain massive attention, with millions of views on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, international news coverage, incredible fan art, people reaching out with their ideas for children’s books and more!
People are truly captivated by the coyote and badger, and they want to know more about the story behind this video. Here are some answers to common questions:
Scientific studies and Native American records tell us that coyotes and badgers have been known to hunt together. When they work together, they can team up to catch their next meals, like ground squirrels and other prey species. However, this is the first documentation (that we know of) showing a coyote and badger using a human-made structure to travel together safely.
“We knew we had something special the moment we saw the footage,” Sharma says. “It’s an amazing inter-species relationship. It almost seems like they’re braving this somewhat hazardous situation together.”
This video was recorded as part of a three-year study we’re conducting with our partners at Pathways for Wildlife to better understand how wildlife interact with the major roadways that surround the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Our research team has deployed more than 50 remote-sensor cameras at existing bridges and culverts (tunnels under roads like the one in the video), as well as conducted systematic roadkill surveys throughout the study area. The findings will help us save and expand wildlife habitats and safe wildlife crossings in the Bay Area.
Creating a network of protected open spaces has been mission-critical for POST since our nonprofit was founded in 1977. The goal is for our region to be a place where wildlife can move, adapt and thrive in the face of a changing landscape and climate.
“This work is increasingly important,” Sharma says, “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.”
There is just something about this shrub! Several raccoons and a skunk appeared to take great interest. Our camera captured bobcat and coyote using this culvert as well, highlighting its importance in providing safe passage for a variety of wildlife.
The latest scientific research has made it clear that far-ranging wildlife such as pumas face an imminent threat of genetic isolation if they can’t interact and mate with neighboring populations. In the Santa Cruz Mountains, for example, it’s important that wildlife can cross safely into the nearby Diablo and Gabilan mountain ranges to mate with populations there.
When wildlife can’t move safely to meet new populations and mate, they remain isolated, which puts some species at risk of extinction. This can also create a cascade effect that could throw the entire ecosystem out of balance. As Sharma explains, “preserving and restoring the connections to other larger habitat areas is critical to the ecological health of the whole landscape and system.”
Even with the sound of traffic overhead, this type of “undercrossing” is particularly important as it provides safe passage for larger animals like this buck. Good visibility, the presence of natural substrate and a mix of open and vegetated pathways make this hospitable for a wide variety of wildlife.
“Our project is focused on identifying the habitats and features wildlife need to help them find and feel comfortable using tunnels and other safe passageways,” Sharma says. “We’re also pinpointing any locations with high concentrations of roadkill. These are important dynamics to understand and take into account, with our ongoing efforts to protect and enhance wildlife crossings and habitats throughout the region.”
With this robust data, we will be able to better identify the areas of safe passage for wildlife in the Southern Santa Cruz Mountains that can be maintained or enhanced, as well as areas where crossing structures could be most useful.
There’s so much more work to do. Saving land vital for wildlife from the threat of urban development is critical to ensure the security of our regional ecosystem. The data Sharma and his team are collecting will be crucial to inform future conservation efforts in and around the southern Santa Cruz Mountains.
By spring 2021, the team will have analyzed the dataset and will be poised to share their learnings with other organizations working across this large, diverse and dynamic landscape.
“The clock is ticking,” Sharma says. “I feel a great sense of urgency for this work — for working together to prepare our landscape for the realities that lie ahead.”
Thanks to all of our partners who are involved in the Southern Santa Cruz Mountains Wildlife Connectivity Study – particularly Pathways for Wildlife, SCL Ecological, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency, The Nature Conservancy, and the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority. We are also grateful for the generous support of Resources Legacy Fund, Western Digital Foundation, and the Arthur L & Elaine V Johnson Foundation.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 79,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more