Wily coyotes are in the state to stay

Last modified: 10/11/2010 12:00:00 AM
By now, many residents have heard the chilling howl of the coyotes that have colonized New Hampshire. It took coyotes just eight years, between 1972 and 1980, to populate the state from Colebrook to Seabrook. They are highly adaptable and far wilier than Chuck Jones's famous cartoon coyote. In real life, coyotes catch and eat roadrunners.

Coyotes can be found in New York City's Central Park, and researchers believe there are more than 2,000 living within Chicago's city limits. History suggests that coyote howls will forever pierce the night. Efforts to eradicate them have proven useless. The more intensely they are hunted, the more young the remaining coyotes produce. People will have to learn to live with coyotes and remember to always treat them like the wild animals they are.

Eastern coyotes are roughly twice the size of their western cousins. They can be as long as a German shepherd and weigh up to 60 pounds. Just this year, scientists confirmed that's because they are part wolf. That's why they are are larger, heavier, more varied in color and more adept at hunting in packs.

All canid species, New York Times writer Carol Kaesuk Yoon reported recently, can interbreed. Some have coyote, wolf and dog genes. While that raises the possibility that someday someone will hear the squeaky howl of a coyhuahua in the night, a coyote would be more likely to eat a chihuahua than mate with it. Coyotes also eat housecats. One Arizona study documented 36 coyote-cat encounters, which resulted in 19 cat deaths. People interested in preserving their pets should keep them indoors at night.

In rare cases, coyotes have attacked humans. Incidents of a coyote attempting to drag a small child off have been reported in Massachusetts and New York. And last fall, a petite, 19-year-old Canadian folk singer was killed by a pair of coyotes while hiking a ridge trail in Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Highlands National Park. No coyote attack on a human has ever been reported in New Hampshire. Attacks, when they occur, are usually the work of animals that have become habituated to humans and fed by them.

Many New Hampshire hunters resent coyote predation on the state's deer herd, which nonetheless grew from 40,000 to 90,000 while the coyote population increased. Attempts to limit the year-round open season on coyotes have failed, and some hunters shoot them on sight. Coyotes are famously hard to hunt or trap or count. Every year, the state's hunters and trappers kill about 500 of them, which suggests they have become quite common.

This year, Wyoming researchers recorded the first instances of coyotes cooperating with another species, Kaesuk Yoon reported. A coyote was seen playfully chasing and harassing a badger, which at 25 pounds for a big male, can weigh nearly as much as a Western coyote. The coyote, researchers found, was persuading the badger to cooperate in a hunting expedition. The pair would visit a colony of ground squirrels, and the coyote would pester the badger until it dug down into the squirrels' tunnels and chased them out for the coyote to catch. The coyote, in turn, chased some of the squirrels back down their holes into the waiting jaws of the badger. Both coyote and badger ate more, with less effort and in a far shorter time than if they acted alone. Researchers observed the same coyote-badger teams working together regularly.

Their discovery demonstrates how much more humans have to learn about the creatures they share the earth with, and it raises an interesting question. If coyotes and badgers can cooperate for their mutual good, why can't Republicans and Democrats?


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