There are a couple of roads that lead out of the back end of the Imperial LTVA. One goes west toward the Picacho Wilderness area. The other has a sign stating Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, so I head toward it. The map shows wildlife sanctuaries along the nearly 90 mile stretch of the Colorado River between the Imperial Dam and the I-10 crossing at Blyth. About 5 miles out I cross a ridge onto a flat. As I am coming down the grade I see something that appears foreign to its place about ½ mile away. I am moving slowly due to the rough road and keep an eye on it as I pull even to it. At this point even though I am within about 300 yards it looks like a life sized stuffed zebra standing in the flat. It hasn’t moved so I suspect it could be a decoy. But why? Looking at the tracks in the road the only thing to pass this way in the past day or two was a motorcycle and I don’t see track leading toward where the “Zebra” is.
The “Zebra” burro.
I slow to a stop and get out to take photos. I am convinced it has to be a burro, their prints are all over the washes and I can occasionally hear them in the early morning, but it still hasn’t moved. I take a few slow steps toward it and I hear a sort of grunt. It has to be from the burro but the noise came from the north and the burro is to my west. Looking to the north I see another burro dead still on a rise in front of some bushes in a gully. I make some tsk noises and this time the burro to the west grunts.The “Zebra” Burro. I walk slowly to the west, but at about a 20 degree north of where the animal is. I also keep my head facing the same direction I am walking and avoid turning my head in its direction. Once I get to about 250 yards from the animal it begins to walk away from me. I stop and whistle. It stops and turns around. I manage to get another 25 yards on it before it turns and walks away again. By now the second burro is also moving, parallel to its friend along a small rise.
The second burro.
I keep trying to gain ground on the original burro so it is larger in the telephoto lens on my camera. Even at full magnification it is extremely small in the frame. The burro keeps its distance and then fades behind the end of a small ridge and out of sight. The second burro has disappeared into a wash. I learn that they must have tremendous eye sight and probably great hearing because they spotted me before I spotted them at a half mile distance.
Both animals looked quite healthy, I saw no ribs sticking through the skin. Both were mostly reddish grey with white on the belly. the second burro is a bit darker grey.
I went back to the truck and continued on, seeing no other animals. A spur road turned toward the river and then came across a rise where I could see a resort on the Arizona side of the river. There were a couple of boats making their way through a labyrinth of channels leading to a “lake” and up river. One boat was your typical bass fishing boat. The other was a sort of tour boat with about 10 people aboard. The spur then turned north to a dead-end right at the water.
As I pull into the dirt parking area I see a bare patch of ground rising between the masses of thin bamboo that lines the river. On bare ground leading into the interior desert lies a dead coyote. I know it is dead because it is lying with its hind end high and its nose lowest on the small rise. It is in a beautiful winter coat, creamy white belly with grey and golden tips on the guard hairs. The coat is full, fluffy and luxurious.
I get out and walk up to it and wonder how long ago it died. At first there were no visible signs but as I walk around to the belly side I can see some entrails just barely showing under the fur of its left side. It has been gut shot and left to die. There were no flies or other bugs working on it so I felt it was a fresh kill. I used a stick to try to turn it over but the animal was too heavy. I then used my boot to try to turn it over by a leg. The leg was stiff, as was the body, and it would have rolled easily but when I saw it was in rigor I let it back down. This led me to believe the animal was probably shot within 4-8 hours of my arrival at around 10AM. Rigor Mortis begins to set in a human between 8 and 12 hours at room temperatures. Heat will accelerate the process. My estimate is based upon a smaller organism and a hot morning. Had it been longer, for instance overnight, the body would have bloated.
The dead coyote.
I had seriously considered relieving the animal of its gorgeous coat until I saw the entrails. That would have meant a gaping hole in the pelt. As I was leaving I thought of taking the tail. That would be easy and there would be no tanning needed. Then I remembered I was in California and didn’t have a hunting license. To harvest any part of any animal, game or otherwise, you need to have a hunting license. Even on road kill.
In my opinion it was a wanton, wasteful kill. This animal was performing it’s role within it’s niche in Nature. There are no farms, ranches or other sources of human interactions within 5 miles of the location on the California side. If the animal could make it across to the Arizona side it would have to navigate a maze of channels, cattails, bamboo, reeds, and a long swim.
That was such a beautiful coat.