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Coyotes in the city: Good, bad or ugly?

Nov 6, 2012, New York Times News Service: 17:14 IST
A few decades ago, Wile E Coyote in hapless pursuit of Road Runner may have been the most readily conjured image of Canis latrans, the coyote, for most city dwellers.

But increasingly, residents of urban and suburban areas in the United States are having firsthand experience with coyotes in their own yards, parks and neighbourhoods.

Coyotes now inhabit every state except Hawaii, eating mostly rodents, rabbits and fruit while making their homes between apartment buildings and in industrial parks and recreation areas in metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

Recent research suggests that coyotes could prove to be just the first of a wave of larger carnivores – bears, cougars and wolves – moving into residential areas.But while the long-running battle over how best to protect and manage another, larger carnivore – the wolf – has often pitted environmentalists and animal welfare groups against sportsmen and ranchers, much of the debate over urban coyote management is now playing out at a local level.

“There’s a number of things that coyotes really find to their liking in suburban communities, more than adjacent wild areas,” said Robert Timm, a wildlife specialist and the director of the University of California’s Hopland Research and Extension Center. Food set out regularly for a pet or stray cat, fallen fruit in the yard, a small dog off-leash, – all of these things can attract coyotes.
Polarised attitudes

“Coyotes are more opportunistic and harder to deal with than wolves are,” Timm said. But Camilla Fox, the founder of Project Coyote, an organisation in Larkspur, Calif., that promotes appreciation of coyotes and seeks to minimise lethal control, says coyote behaviour is often misinterpreted.

“I may see a coyote in my neighbourhood and recognise that coyote is moving through, looking for a mate,” she said.“People have very strong opinions on coyotes and carnivores in general – very strong support, and very strong negative attitudes, some of which may be unjustified,” said Paul Curtis, a wildlife biologist at Cornell University who helped lead a five-year study of coyote behaviour in Westchester County in New York.

“People are initially really excited, or at least intrigued, ‘I want to see what their behaviour is, and where they live, and what they eat, what their pups are like,”’ Timm said.

“But if your pet gets bitten, or your cat gets killed and you find parts of it on your front lawn in the morning, then you have a whole different conception of whether it’s good to have coyotes in the community,” he said.Cornell researchers who surveyed residents of four Westchester towns in New York before and after two coyote attacks on children in July 2010 in the county found that “residents were aware that coyotes could harm pets” at the time of the first survey in 2006.

“But the possibility of harm to people was a hypothetical risk until the events during summer 2010.”Over a year after the attacks, concern about coyotes and perception of risk, the study’s authors wrote, appeared to have been elevated to “a new norm.”
Josie Garthwaite

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