NAPLES — Coyote pups found at the historic Belleview Biltmore in Belleair four months ago have a new home — the Naples Zoo — and a new teacher — a hound dog named Millie who's teaching them how to act like canines.
The four coyotes at the zoo are the survivors from a litter of six found in a den near the Biltmore's porch and on the golf course of the closed resort.
Belleair police and a local wildlife trapper collected the pups when they were 6 weeks old. They never found a mother.
Now the pups — Gunther, Dakota, Cody and Maya — have a new role in Naples.
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Scott Andrews paraded around a desert-like landscape in the zoo's Safari Canyon theater.
"This animal has a reputation as a nuisance," Andrews said to an audience of 40 at the zoo show. "And in many areas of the country, they're shot on sight."
On cue, Gunther entered the small arena. The coyote was still a little shy, having been in captivity only a few months. After a Safety Harbor veterinarian cared for the pups, Naples Zoo was selected as their permanent home.
"Coyotes aren't from this area," Andrews explained as trainers tried to keep Gunther's attention with treats. "They moved into this area because we killed all the bears, wolves and mountain lions. So they've filled in that gap."
The problem in training them, zoo director David Tetzlaff said, is that coyotes don't listen to humans. They don't look up to the crowd for approval, or drop their front quarters and raise their rear in an attempt to coax another animal into playing.
That's why Tetzlaff adopted a 6-year-old hound mix named Millie from the Naples Humane Society.
"Millie is making all the difference in the world with them," Tetzlaff said. "They're not oriented to humans like pet dogs are. So they needed a leader. They were like students in a classroom without a teacher."
Tetzlaff and his wife brought Millie to the zoo, let her interact with the pups and decided to adopt the dog. "She seemed to adjust to them fine, and even the timid ones were all over her," he said.
"Millie's mothering instincts make her a perfect match to help wild canines adjust to domestic life at the zoo," said Michael Simonik, executive director of the Naples Humane Society. "We are confident that the zoo staff will give Millie a wonderful lifelong loving home. … Millie found a second chance at life, comforting her wild cousins."
The pups played in their caged pen, ran like a small pack and sniffed everything they could while keeping a lookout for macaws flying overhead.
Millie bayed like a hound dog, seemingly excited by all the activity at the zoo.
This isn't the first dog adoption for the zoo. A decade ago Tetzlaff brought in a dog to be a companion to an adult tiger. That relationship worked well, he said. The tiger has since been relocated and the dog, Crystal, now lives with a dingo.
Though tigers spend most of their lives alone, even the least social of animals has some type of interaction in its life, Tetzlaff said.
"No animals live a totally solitary life," Tetzlaff said. "They're going to come into contact with others of their kind and other animals. So I'm not in favor of keeping an animal isolated."