“Warning, Coyote seen on property. Considered armed and Dangerous. Secure your children, Call the Police.” Ok, so I’m exaggerating. But not by much. Notices such as these have been distributed and posted in buildings, schools and parks all over Westchester County, NY recently. Ever since the early September attacks by a Rabid Coyote in Rye, NY, the county it seems, has been consumed by Coyotephobia. But is it warranted? Coyotes often get a bad rep in cartoons and movies, often playing villains or portrayed as sneaky and disheveled. The very graphic descriptions from the early September incident of a rabid mother coyote eating her young don’t do much to help change this image. Even among conservation groups, there hasn’t been a rallying cry to “save the coyotes”. I remember attending a wolf conservation program once and the disgusted response of one of the educators to a question about whether wolves and Coyotes ever cross breed. (As if a wolf would DARE mate with a “lower” member of the Canis Genus)I bit my tongue at the time, but anyone familiar with the “red wolf” ESA controversy know that from genetic evidence, the Wolf seems to be less picky than it’s advocates.
So, how dangerous are these animals? With the extirpation of the Timber Wolf and Mountain lion from New York State in the 1800’s, Coyotes have taken on the dominant mammalian Predator niche in many areas. “Eastern” Coyotes have been found to attain higher body weight than their counterparts out west. There are a few theories on why this happens, interbreeding with wolves and an empty predator niche among them. Will Coyotes eat your cat? Probably. One of many reasons you might want to keep them indoors. (In addition to eating the resident songbird population and contracting feline AIDS through rampant unprotected cat sex.) Although I’m willing to bet more cars kill cats than Coyotes.
Are Coyotes invading Westchester? Not Exactly. Coyotes didn’t just show up in Westchester in 2010. They have been here a while, but no one really noticed because in general they tend to be suspicious and avoid people. I can’t even get a good shot of one on a baited camera trap with a .8 second trigger speed. They are gone in one frame, as soon as they see the infrared flash.
Will Coyotes eat your children? Unlikely. Although Coyotes have been known to attack small children on occasion, most are scared away by the ensuing commotion. The last person known to be killed by a Coyote in the US was a child in California 30 years ago. A 19 year old woman in Canada was thought to have been killed by a pack of Coyotes in 2009. Either way you are more likely to be struck by lightning than killed by coyotes.
Are all Coyotes Rabid? Not even close. Of the 5,263 Animals (most of which were bats, raccoons and domestic animals) sent in for Rabies testing in New York State so far in 2010, only 364 were actually rabid. That’s 7%. And that’s 7% of those tested, not 7% of those running around outside. Only a small percentage of the wild population are killed and sent in for testing, so most wild animals you see running around digging up your garden rabies free.
In case you haven’t noticed, this is the case for Coyotes. I’m not going to sit here and tell you they are fluffy friendly puppies that you should pet and hug. They are wild animals, and need to be respected as such. Of course respect and fear are two different animals ;-).