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New York Coyotes-Throwing money at them!

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Mike

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Keeping coyotes at bay
State funds research to develop strategies to keep animals away from people

By MATT PACENZA, Staff writer
First published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Here's what New York officials fear: In Simi Valley, Calif., a coyote attacked a 3-year-old boy on his front porch last year, biting him on the neck, ear, head, hand, back and face, before police shot and killed the 45-pound animal.

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Coyotes are normally timid animals that avoid people, but research has shown that when their turf intersects with cities and suburbs, some hunt pets -- and in extremely rare cases, children.

To ward off the unimaginable in New York, where coyotes are increasingly common, state environmental authorities recently awarded a $428,000 grant to Cornell University researchers to track the terrain and habits of coyotes. The idea is to develop strategies to discourage coyotes from contact with people.

The research will build on earlier studies, including one recently done by the State Museum's mammal curator, Roland Keys. He found that in the Pine Bush, because highways and hunters have thinned their numbers, coyotes aren't yet bothering people -- or their pets.

"Coyotes in Albany appear to be living a natural life," Keys said. "We only found two cats in their diet over a three-year period."

There have been numerous reports of marauding coyotes elsewhere in the Capital Region, however. State Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife biologist Gordon Batcheller spoke to a woman recently who said a coyote followed her as she walked her dog along a bicycle path near Albany.

Most famously, a turkey hunter was attacked and bitten by a pair of coyotes in Clifton Park in 2001. It was determined, however, that the coyotes probably assumed the hunter was in fact a turkey -- he was camouflaged and using a turkey call.

Grieving pet owners also regularly blame their missing pets on coyotes. Keys said other predators are sometimes to blame: Fishers, large members of the weasel family, are known to snag the occasional kitty.

Eastern coyotes are relatively new to the state, having migrated from Canada 70 or 80 years ago. They've become firmly established since the 1970s, according to the DEC.

Coyotes are New York's biggest predator, weighing up to 50 pounds. Black bears are bigger, of course, but aren't considered true predators because so much of their diet is not meat.

Research in California has determined there is a pretty clear progression of behavior when coyotes get near people. The coyotes begin to lose their natural fear of humans after they find food associated with people: garbage, pet food and pets themselves.

Keys calls that progression "the path toward the dark side. New York wants to avoid the Darth Vaders among coyotes -- by keeping them in a natural state."

The attacks can be pretty brazen, said Cornell University wildlife professor Paul Curtis, one of the researchers directing the study, which will start in July.

"Small dogs start disappearing off their leashes while their owners are walking them," said Curtis. "That's usually the last step before they attack people."

While there have been no known instances of coyote attacks on people in New York -- unless you count the turkey hunter -- Curtis said officials have seen everything but. Most such reports have come from Westchester and Rockland counties, where hunting that may scare off coyotes is rare and habitat is plentiful. The Cornell project will begin downstate before moving to a second study area upstate, possibly in the Capital Region.

What the Cornell researchers hope they can ultimately do is to interrupt the interactions between coyote and people, once researchers understand where coyotes live and how they behave.

Potential strategies include shooting coyotes with rubber buckshot or paint balls to startle them, or baiting them with food laden with a mild toxin.

"The idea is that they develop an association with getting sick from eating human foods," said Curtis.

Curtis said he thinks what they'll find is that just a few coyotes are responsible for most attacks on pets. "I would expect that the vast majority don't get in trouble," said Curtis. "Maybe we can end up just relocating a few animals."

Such strategies aren't necessary in and around the Pine Bush, where Keys and his research assistant, Dan Bogan, studied 21 coyotes over a four-year period.

Keys and Bogan put collars on the coyotes to track their movements. They also collected their scat, or feces, to see what they were eating.

They found nearly all of their diet was natural, from animals like rabbits, voles (meadow mice) and deer. They also found the relatively few coyotes in the Pine Bush avoided developed areas.

The reason there are so few coyotes in the Pine Bush is the most interesting part of the study: because people kept killing them.

Eighty percent of the 21 coyotes that Keys and Bogan tracked died during the three-year study. Seven were shot, six were hit by cars and two died of internal bleeding, most likely from eating animals like voles or mice that had ingested rat poison.

It's not clear if the study of the Pine Bush, where nature is divided by malls and highways like Interstate 90, can be applied to the broader Capital Region. "Their home range here is fragmented by roads and development," said Bogan. That is less true in more rural parts of the area.

It's puzzling to the researchers that so many coyotes were shot. Many were likely killed illegally -- six of the seven were shot outside of the Oct. 1 to March 27 coyote hunting season. It's legal to shoot a coyote anytime if it's threatening your property, but based upon their study of the coyotes' diet, the researchers doubt that was the case for all six.

A final goal of the Cornell project is to educate people to stop doing things that attract coyotes -- like leaving pet food or bird seed outside -- so that shooting them isn't necessary. It's also widely recommended that pet owners never let their cats or dogs roam freely outside.

The idea, all the experts say, is to figure out a way to keep coyotes from being something that people fear.

"As long as they are in rural areas, feeding on mice and other mammals, there's no reason for concern," Curtis said. "We should just enjoy them."
 

Jinglebob

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Just give all of the coyotes the address for the ACME company and maybe turn a roadrunner or two loose. That ought to do it!
 

nr

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Interesting article- just what we have to look forward to here. We're suspecting the drop in rabbit population might be due to more foxes and coyotes.
 

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