08 November 2005

Sungmanitu Reclaims Territorty...

Always the Trickster, that clever Coyote. This makes sense as he is one of our brothers...


The Urban Coyotes
By Paul Meincke

October 11, 2005 - Urban coyotes are being tracked to learn more about how they live and survive in Cook County, right in the middle of one of the most populated areas in the country.

Five years ago, after some incidents in which small pets vanished from backyards, Cook County decided to take a detailed look at coyotes in our urban environment. Were their numbers growing? Were they becoming more aggressive? What's their disease-spreading potential? The ongoing study is now the most exhaustive of its kind anywhere in the world, and wildlife researchers everywhere are most interested in what it shows.

If you happen to see a pick-up heading down the street with a funny looking antenna spinning about -- fear not. It's probably wildlife technician Stephanie Hauver out listening for coyotes.

"We're listening for the signal that's emitted from a radio collar. Each radio collar has a unique signal," said Stephanie Hauver, wildlife technician.

During the past five years, researchers working Cook County's Coyote Project have captured dozens and dozens of coyotes. After fitting the animals with radio collars, they are released. Coyote number 1294 was the first capture. She lives in Schaumburg -- in the heart of busy suburbia. No. 1294 is one of 150 coyotes in Cook County with radio collars around their necks sending out signals.

"The very first night I radio tracked a coyote, that coyote traveled over 20 miles over five cities. You can hear the planes and the traffic. We had no idea they had that kind of ability to cross that kind of roads and that kind of traffic, and they do that regularly," said Dr. Stan Gehrt.

Tracking their movements has provided a window into coyotes' urban mobility, packs and their territories, their social systems, and survival rates which are higher in this huge metropolitan region than they are in rural areas.

Is it unusual to see a coyote running along a breakwater on the lakefront -- as we did a couple years ago? Sure, but it didn't surprise researchers. They have evidence of a pack that frequents the Loop. One coyote had to be fished out after a downtown swim in the chilly Chicago River. The creatures are all around us.

"Coyotes have taught us that we need to broaden our idea of what habitat is for wildlife. We find coyotes using areas you would never imagine, like parking lots," said Dr. Gehrt.

What of their dining habits? Largely rodents, but using night scope cameras and time-lapse photography, researchers have found that coyotes have a real taste for goose eggs.

Mama goose is sitting on the nest. She is fiercely protective, but realizes she is no match when Mr. Coyote arrives. He checks out the area, even it seems the camera. He leaves briefly, and then comes back for the egg, and it's off to dinner. The goose population -- rapidly rising in this area -- has flattened out over the last couple years.

"That's one example of how coyotes are performing an ecological service that never makes the papers because it's a hidden function," said Dr. Gehrt.

But it is also true that coyotes have gone into yards, sometimes it seems boldly, and small dogs and cats have subsequently disappeared. That's one of the reasons the county launched this project.

"I'm amazed at how not frightened they are of people," said Dr. Dan Parmer, Cook County Dept. of Animal and Rabies Control.

Unafraid, but at the same time, as Dr Parmer says, coyotes want nothing to do with people. Attacks on humans are extraordinarily rare -- usually after some provocation. The research project is meant to help communities determine when a coyote is a real menace and needs to be removed. Most often, they just quietly co-exist all around us.

"You get such an admiration for these animals and you realize where they are in our universe -- and why they're here and why they've survived, and you realize were not all that smart. There are a lot of smart things out there besides us," said Dr. Parmer.

We increasingly take their space, so they are adapting to ours. Living side by side with humans, though, means inevitable conflict. Small pets can be vulnerable. Being aware of that is important.

But coyotes are a big part of ecological balance even in an urban area. Dr Dan Parmer, the man who launched the study, says, you come to admire the coyotes ability to survive and thrive among us and their place in the universe. We are not the only smart creatures out there.


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