CLEVELAND (CBS CLEVELAND) – Urban coyotes thriving in city settings could lure larger predators to a town near you.
Coyotes are the largest mammalian predators to have made their way into and thrive in urban settings. But still larger animals could follow the same path. Chicago and other big cities have gotten used to the presence of coyotes, with the animal popping up in everyday locations like a Quizno’s sandwich shop, as happened in 2007. But the animal’s presence in urban areas sets the stage for larger predators like wolves, mountain lions and bears, which might be harder to live with, according to a coyote researcher at The Ohio State University.
This animal’s amazing ability to thrive in metropolitan areas has greatly surprised scientists, says Stanley Gehrt, an assistant professor of environmental and natural resources at Ohio State University. Gehrt is in the sixth year of a multi-year study of coyote behavior in urban Chicago.
The study began in Chicago in 2000 when Gehrt, who is also a wildlife extension specialist at Ohio State, was a research biologist for the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation in Dundee, Ill. In the 1990s the foundation was increasingly inundated with complaints about coyotes taking pets and reportedly stalking children.
The study surprised many scientists and lasted well beyond its original one-year plan.
“Nine million people live in the greater Chicago area,” Gehrt told the university’s Research News. “We didn’t think very many coyotes could thrive in such a highly urbanized area. We also thought that the few animals that were causing problems were probably used to living around people.”
Inherent problems have long stopped effective research on coyotes.
According to Gehrt, the problem with studying coyotes in general is that the animals are incredibly difficult to catch. They quickly learn how to avoid traps. But Gehrt and his colleagues distributed their traps widely throughout the greater Chicago area and successfully caught several animals. They put radio-tagged collars on the captured coyotes and then let them go.
Original estimates of Chicago coyotes were far below the reality.
“We couldn’t find an area in Chicago where there weren’t coyotes,” Gehrt said. “They’ve learned to exploit all parts of their landscape.”
Since the beginning of the study, the researchers have caught and tagged more than 200 coyotes. They estimate that there may be somewhere between several hundred and a couple thousand coyotes living in Chicago.
And the animals are incredibly mobile.
Those urban coyotes that don’t hunt in packs can cover ranges of 50 square miles or more, often in just one night. “The first solitary coyote we tracked covered five adjacent cities in a single night,” Gehrt said.
“But most coyotes aren’t thrilled about being seen by people,” he continued. “Urban coyotes are more active at night than their rural counterparts, so humans don’t see a lot of their activity. In many cases, coyotes are probably doing us favors that we don’t realize – they eat a lot of rodents and other animals that people don’t want around.”
And even now, coyotes aren’t alone.
Mountain lions and bears have been seen in increasing numbers in some areas of Chicago. In 2008, a mountain lion was shot in the Wrigleyville neighborhood of Chicago.