By Mark Kaufman
A wildlife camera filmed the profoundly rare sight of a coyote leading its badger companion through a tunnel beneath a Northern California highway.
The now-viral clip shows the two species using the culvert to access land on the other side of the road in November 2019. They may have been going to hunt prey together — like the species do in places like Colorado.
The two animals crossing together is a unique glimpse into the little-known, fascinating relationships between wildlife living amid our bustling society.
“I don’t know if that’s ever been observed before,” said Neal Sharma, who manages wildlife linkages at Peninsula Open Space Trust, the conservation organization that set up the wildlife camera.
“This blew us away,” Sharma said.
The Peninsula Open Space Trust has wildlife cameras set up around California’s Bay Area to learn where animals cross roadways, or try to cross roadways. In many places, there aren’t ideally placed culverts, which are designed to manage floodwaters during storms, available for wildlife to use.
In some places, animals often get hit by vehicles when attempting to cross the road. These places may need wildlife crossings (which are roads and tunnels for wildlife), said Sharma. “There are many sites we’re looking at — this [culvert] is just one of them.”
And in this case, a clever coyote and badger found their way through.
“Animals need to migrate.”
Roads aren’t inherently all bad. But roads that completely divide wildlife ecosystems are. “That can get in the way of animals finding suitable habitat, food, and mates,” said Sharma. “Animals need to migrate.”
“The world has witnessed unprecedented levels of habitat fragmentation. Roads are a big factor in this malady,” said Gary Tabor, president of the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, an organization working to reconnect wild lands. Paved roads will double on Earth in the next 15 to 20 years, Tabor added. “Most will be punched into remote, high biodiversity areas,” he said.
“Webcams tell us that wildlife have the ability to learn how to cross these barriers if we give them the opportunity,” Tabor said.
Though wildlife crossings might be essential in many places (like Northern California) today, he added some species might not like to enter concrete tunnels or lofty bridges. These species are stuck. “The best route for nature is no road at all,” said Tabor.
But a California coyote and badger, at least, have found a way to connect their divided worlds.
After journeying through the tunnel, Sharma said the two later came scurrying back, together.