Just like you, I got caught up in the delightful viral video (above) of a coyote and a badger. I tweeted "This is the buddy comedy I'd pay to see in the theater."
If you haven't seen it, the footage, from the Peninsula Open Space Trust's (POST) wildlife cam in the Santa Cruz mountains of California, shows a solo coyote playfully inviting an off-camera friend to come play. The body language from the coyote is extremely non-aggressive and happy, as any dog-lover could translate. The coyote then bounds into one of those big under-road culverts, and waits. Into the frame trundles a badger, who follows his friend into the culvert where they trot off together into the darkness, two very different butts waggling along until they're almost out of frame.
Cooperation between coyotes and badgers is a fairly well-known, at least among wildlife biologists and their animal behavior-loving fans. And it was known by Native Americans before biologists came along, too. While these two weren't hunting in the moment they were caught on film, that's the likely explanation for their pairing up like this — they were off to hunt some ground squirrels.
Why would they work together? As MNN's Russell McLendon writes: "Coyotes are nimble and quick, so they excel at chasing prey across an open prairie. Badgers are slow and awkward runners by comparison, but they're better diggers than coyotes are, having evolved to pursue small animals in underground burrow systems. So when they hunt prairie dogs or ground squirrels on their own, badgers usually dig them up, while coyotes chase and pounce."
While the video is an extremely charming look at wild animal lives, humans still loom large in the picture. The reason the coyote and badger are using the tunnel in the first place is because their land has been crisscrossed by highways, and cut into by development for human houses, fragmenting and fracturing their habitat.
"What was really surprising about this video is that here we have two species that are very different, that are traveling together through a human-made structure under a busy highway that was not designed by wildlife," Neal Sharma, POST’s Wildlife Linkages program manager, told MNN. "This is a culvert that these animals found that they were both comfortable enough to go through together, which to our knowledge is the first time that shared use of a crossing structure simultaneously has been documented."
Why wildlife corridors matter
Culverts big enough for animals, like the one in the video, and larger, planned wildlife underpasses and overpasses, are one way to counteract human invasion into animals' land. It's important that wildlife be connected to each other in order to keep a healthy diversity of DNA within species, and to allow for finding food and water. But there's also what Sharma says is the "long term importance" of ensuring animals are connected — diversity. "We think about climate change and what it's going to take to allow animals to adapt to a changing world. [Connecting habitats] is a climate-resiliency strategy so that the ecosystem has the best chance to stay resilient and healthy as it relies on all of its parts," says Sharma.
POST is halfway through a three-year study looking at where, when and how different animals use existing culverts (and where animals are found as roadkill, another sad but important metric). The viral coyote-badger video was found among the footage of 50 cameras used to collect this data. "We've found mountain lion footprints in the substrate and on cameras. We have grey fox, raccoon, skunks, and bobcat, and many different species of snakes and birds, too," says Sharma. (This extended video shows many of these other animals.)
When the project is complete, POST will pull the information from the cameras and roadkill data together. "We expect to have a recommendations and thoughtful analysis on the full range of opportunities and issues and ... we'll have some implementation strategies to make the most of the amazing dataset that we're putting together now," says Sharma. He says POST is working with the California Department of Transportation, other government entities, and NGOs to make the information available as a "contribution to be leveraged for a wide variety of impact."
Current and future coyote-and-badger pairs, as well as all of the animals that share their ecosystem, from mice on up to mountain lions, will benefit from ranges connected in ways that make it safe for them to travel — with the bonus of saving human lives and property from accidents with them too.