Coyote Beautiful

Beautiful Coyote

Coyote Ugly: After a one-night stand, waking up and, rather than risk waking up the ugly person sleeping on your arm, you'd rather chew it off.

Coyote Beautiful: After years of ignorance, waking up to the truth that coyote beautiful performs an invaluable service to us, as top urban predator; that they are not a threat to us or many of our pets, as some would have us think; that they are here to stay; and that they should not be reduced, “managed” or “controlled.”

If you've seen the pretty coyote, now found in every part of Ohio, you know it resembles a German shepherd dog. Gorgeous and lean, coyotes boast black-tipped, bushy tails. Most appear gray, but some are dark or even black, while others exhibit brownish, rust or off-white colors. Males are bigger, weighing 20 to 40 pounds. If not seen, maybe you've heard their raucous, "yelping teenager" sounds, or plaintive yowling at night. Beautiful coyote calls remind us of our inextricable connection to the natural world.

Not even top coyote experts know enough about the critter -- whose numbers have increased for the past 16 years in urban areas. They admit that any coyote “management” system would be, at best, highly misguided. It should be plain, then, that no one should tamper with coyotes. At this writing, a collaborative study between Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) and Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, along with area nonprofits, is underway in order to learn more about coyotes.

We do know that coyote beautiful keeps other urban species numbers in balance. I like to think of them as zero-cost, natural pest control, patrolling the neighborhood while I sleep. Coyotes do prey on deer, mostly fawns. But their main bill of fare consists of rodents, including the common garden pest, the vole. They also consume a good number of Canada Goose eggs.

Stan Gehrt, associate professor at Ohio State University, studies coyotes’ spread to urban areas. His Cook County Coyote Project in urban Chicago, a comprehensive ecological study of coyotes in metropolitan Chicago, has set the standard – for the entire world! Gehrt states that in the study, “By placing modified video cameras at the nests, we were able to identify coyotes as the major predator on the nests. . . Thus . . . serving as a bio-control for urban geese.”

Another ugly misconception about coyotes is that they thrive on or frequently raid garbage and eat a substantial number of pets. According to Ghert's study, grad student Paul Morey researched scat contents of 1,429 coyotes and determined the most common food items were small rodents, 42 percent, followed by fruit, deer (again, fawns) and rabbit. He always found various items within the scat, predominantly rodents. Domestic cats made up a surprisingly negligible 1.3 percent, while food traceable to humans (basically, garbage and pet food) scored just 1.9 percent in the scats studied.

Sometimes, we hear stories of wild coyote attacks in Northeast Ohio. But pressing the alarm button is seldom, if ever, warranted. Gehrt, in his "Ghosts of the Cities" published through OSU's School of Environment and Natural Resources Gehrt claims, "An average of three coyote attacks annually on humans in the U.S. and Canada, and these are almost always in the southwest, where very misguided people feed coyotes." He adds, “Unfortunately, most of the information the public receives about urban coyotes comes from newspapers or other media that usually focus on conflicts such as pet attacks. For perspective, it is worth considering that no documented case of a coyote biting a human has been reported for Cook County [Illinois]. Contrast that result with domestic dogs, in which Cook County often records 2,000 to 3,000 dog bites each year (including some fatalities)."

Yes, coyotes have been known to attack dogs and kill cats, especially if domesticated or wild canine cousins are considered competition. But it's not as common as we might think. Gehrt believes coyotes are more interested in mating, rather than attacking, medium to large dogs. But because dogs’ reproductive cycles don't coincide with their wild cousins', plus other biological factors, the occasional hybrid "coydog" is not a frequent phenomenon, not even in captivity. Very seldom, a small dog may be taken in the presence of its "person." Don't believe the hype and Division of Wildlife propaganda. Just keep dogs and cats – the latter of which should never be allowed outside anyway -- under a watchful eye.

Indeed, before people contact ACME (Beep! Beep!) removal service, or communities call in the Division of Wildlife -- reputed for issuing nuisance trapping and hunting permits because that is how ODNR/DOW, whose entire board is comprised of hunters, makes most of its revenue and therefore has no genuine interest in native wildlife or the majority of Ohio citizens who don’t support "management" programs -- consider Gehrt's assertion that “Removal, especially lethal removal, is often controversial within communities. This is especially true when the perceived threat by coyotes is somewhat ambiguous to residents. Removal programs can also be expensive, either for residents or municipalities, and traps can occasionally capture pets.”

In Cleveland Amory's tome, "Ranch of Dreams," he recounts numerous instances of three-legged critters that somehow found sanctuary at his ranch. Most of the others weren’t so lucky. All kinds of unintended consequences ensue trapping. Trapping is just plain cruel.

The Metro Parks, Serving Summit County (MPSSC) study represents another unique collaborative, including The University of Akron and the nonprofit conservation foundation Wild4ever. The multi-year project that began in 2010 fitted between five and 15 coyotes in northern Summit County, some with VHF radio collars, others with GPS collars. (CVNP and MPSSC previously conducted howling surveys, in which coyote calls are played at night and responses from the animals were tallied.) This latest research allows biologists to determine how many coyotes live in select areas, but the study is in its infancy.

Early findings of the Northeast Ohio study indicate annual coyote increases of 14 percent. But even they admit population densities are still unknown. This latter point gibes with the much more comprehensive Chicago study, indicating that, though coyotes have moved into urban areas the past 16+ years, territories don’t overlap, helping stabilize populations. “Some research has been completed on coyotes in our region, but there are still many basic questions,” says Mike Johnson, MPSSC’s chief of natural resources. Leading MPSSC's efforts is biologist Marlo Perdicas. Along with Johnson, Percidas believes new findings may corroborate other urban and rural coyote studies east of the Mississippi, including Gehrt's work. Says Percidas, "Obtaining data on Northeast Ohio’s population will increase public awareness of coyotes and their habits, and may help diffuse future human-wildlife conflicts.”

Now, we’re almost awake, a few more minutes to beauty’s full truth. . .

When encountering coyotes that appear tame, don't be intimidated. A habituated coyote means naughty humans have been feeding it, placing the beauty in peril. "Some people are enamored with coyotes. They like seeing them near their yards and attempt to entice them by baiting them, or they want to try to 'tame' them,” explains Gehrt. “Intentional feeding such as this should be prohibited . . . ." In fact, Gehrt advises to take it a step further, and eliminate “inadvertent feeding,” including pet food left outside or large bird feeders that tend to attract various wildlife species.” Please don’t stop feeding the birds! Use some ingenuity by strategically placing feeders out of reach, ideally, no more than two feet from windows to reduce/eliminate fatal or injurious strikes with glass.

Another unnecessary concern involves coyote diseases. But Gehrt says, “Few of the diseases we documented in coyotes are of major importance for people or pets . . . Coyote-strain rabies is restricted to southern Texas. . . . In some cases . . . [coyotes] have created territories in residential areas or complexes of small parks and golf courses. In either case, coyotes manage to defend these territories so that the territories have very little overlap, which controls their density and spatial arrangement across the landscape." In other words, there’s no need to control or manage their numbers.

If you still feel uncomfortable with a coyote around -- and doing so does not make it run into traffic which, by the way, accounted for 60 to 70 percent coyote mortality in the Cook County study -- just make some noise and politely scare if off. Don't run from coyotes.

More Gehrt gleanings: “It is important to stress that our relationship with coyotes is directly affected by our behavior — coyotes react to us, and we can foster mutual respect or a lack of respect through cues we send to coyotes. Coyotes are watching and learning from us; we influence their behavior, and it will be our actions that determine what the future holds for our new neighbors.”

Let's not make the same mistake with coyotes that we made with wolves. “Manage," "control" or attempt to remove/relocate beautiful coyote (the latter of which has proven to be 100% ineffective and results in large numbers of traffic fatalities), and we eliminate another top ally. If anything, knowing that over 60 percent of the coyotes in The Cook County study were killed by vehicles, we should be finding ways to reduce coyote fatalities in this regard. There is not one sound, sane or convincing reason to kill coyotes. Not one! Now, isn’t that a thing of beauty!

lucy mckernan

Animals first.

Read More on Seven Hills
Volume 3, Issue 5, Posted 1:31 PM, 06.03.2011