Coyotes Are New York's Newest Immigrants; the Animals Are Moving into the City and Suburbs to Escape Human Hunters

By Klein, JoAnna | Newsweek, May 8, 2015 | Go to article overview

Coyotes Are New York's Newest Immigrants; the Animals Are Moving into the City and Suburbs to Escape Human Hunters


Klein, JoAnna, Newsweek


Byline: JoAnna Klein

My attire this morning: long johns under jeans, two layers of wool socks, heavy hiking boots, a turtleneck, two scarves, gloves, a fleece, a down parka and a knitted hat. I'm in the most populous city in the country, it's the coldest day of the year, and we're off to track coyotes.

When I lived in the mountains of North Carolina, I never thought I'd end up hunting coyotes in New York City-- maybe a rat or a pigeon. But coyotes, which have always been smart, are finally getting street-smart. They've been spotted around town, and chances are, they're going to stay.

All over North America, as their populations expand, coyotes have been on the move--from forests to suburbs to cities--looking for places free of predators and hunters to call home. Coyotes roam most during January's breeding season, and by March they'll have found their dens. In the city, this could be anywhere--a trash dump, a vacant lot, an overgrown corner. Coyotes in Chicago built a den on the top floor of a parking garage. The only evidence of dens in New York so far is in the Bronx and wooded parts of the parks. In March, a coyote was spotted on the roof of a bar in Long Island City, Queens.

The sightings started in late December 2014. About two weeks later, the New York Police Department (NYPD) found the city's first official coyote (whom they named Riva) in a Riverside Park basketball court on 72nd Street in Manhattan. After someone called to report a coyote roaming the area, the NYPD used two tranquilizer darts to sedate and capture her. That was around 10:30 p.m. on January 10. Two weeks later, Stella appeared.

Stella stalked the streets near the Con Ed plant on the East Side of Manhattan before police wrangled her in nearby Stuyvesant Town, a massive condo complex. The NYPD captured her as they would a delinquent dog: They roped her neck, sedated her, placed her in a carrier and transported her to Animal Care and Control of NYC. After determining that both females were healthy, they released them in the Bronx, where coyotes have been living and breeding for 20 years.

Because there are fewer predatory threats and more food, coyotes have begun to flourish in the suburbs, like those around Chicago and parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, New York. In April 2015, there were two instances when coyotes attacked men in Bergen County, New Jersey, across the Hudson from Manhattan. (In the first case, the animal was found to be rabid; the second is still at large.)

But the suburbs are becoming overcrowded. Because coyotes are territorial, and only one pair will mate in any given territory, coyotes are venturing ever farther to mate and establish homes. "They're New York's newest immigrants," says Chris Nagy, director of Research and Land Management at Mianus River Gorge in Bedford, New York. "They're just looking to make a living just like anyone else." Since 2006, Nagy and Mark Weckel, a conservation biologist at the American Museum of Natural History, have been working with high school interns to photograph coyotes in and around the city in a research program called the Gotham Coyote Project.

In the past two decades, coyotes have colonized Washington, D.C.; Tucson, Arizona; Los Angeles; Chicago; and Calgary, Canada. They've already been sighted in all of New York City's five boroughs. Strangely, though, they don't seem to like Long Island--it's the only landmass in the continental U.S. without a known coyote population. Experts from around the country, including Nagy, think it won't be long until coyotes settle down there too.

"Coyotes can get to Long Island the same way humans get to it: via the intricate network of bridges, tunnels and rail lines," says Javier Monzon, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Coyotes can also swim.

As a human, I need to rely on public transportation. I take two trains and a bus to get to Alley Pond Environmental Center on the border of Queens and Long Island, where I meet Nagy by his Subaru in the icy parking lot out front. …

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