Coyotes are popping up across the city–on a roof, behind a bush and sitting doe-eyed in a crate after being captured by the New York City Police Department. Their presence might seem unusual to city residents, but the coyotes are just a local chapter of a country-wide trend of urban coyotes.
In the past decade, as human development encroaches on the natural habitat of coyotes, many of the animals have moved into urban areas. Another factor in their movement is that their natural predator, the gray wolf, has become an endangered species in the last three years, allowing the coyote population to expand its borders. Scientists call this natural range expansion.
“We have to accept the fact that natural range expansion is part of the ecology of wildlife globally,” Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote, said. “Natural range expansion is exactly what’s happening, and some of this is in response to alteration of habitat.”
Project Coyote is a California-based organization that seeks to destigmatize coyotes. The group promotes peaceful coexistence with coyotes through conversations with wildlife scientists, ranchers, educators and community leaders. It provides several resources to help the public better understand and interact with coyotes.
In New York state alone, there are 14,500 breeding pairs of coyotes. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, coyotes began moving into the state in the 1930s. Instead of living in packs, like some of their West coast relatives, eastern coyotes tend to live in pairs. All coyotes mate for life.
One common misconception Project Coyote hopes to dispel is that coyotes are dangerous.
“Your chances of being bitten or attacked by a coyote are incredibly low,” she said.
Though there is not a centralized way to keep track of coyote attacks, Fox said that anecdotally, there are relatively few coyote attacks on humans compared to dog bites, which average about 1,000 per day.
Urban coyotes have inspired creative initiatives like The Natural History of the Urban Coyote, a collaboration between three journalists–Jaymi Heimbuch, Morgan Heim and Karine Aigner–with an affinity for canines. Each based in a different city, the journalists learn the habits of local urban coyotes and photograph them, posting photo galleries along with information from wildlife scientists to help spread correct information about coyotes.
“When we understand more, we can coexist easier and fear less,” Heimbuch, founder of the project, said.
Heimbuch and her colleagues were inspired by how adaptive and cunning species is. She hopes to expand their project to include both a film and a book.
The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation recommends several tips for “coexisting with coyotes” based on Project Coyote’s guidelines. Residents are encouraged not to feed the animals so they do not become accustomed to humans, safely store food and garbage in animal-proof receptacles, keep dogs leashed while outside, keep cats indoors, and scare off coyotes if a coyote approaches you in a park or a neighborhood.
Project Coyote also recommends “hazing” the coyotes by making yourself appear large and loud by shouting, waving your arms and flashing lights until the coyote retreats. If residents come across a coyote who is not responding to this or if someone is bitten or hurt, call 9-1-1.
The final recommendation from the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is to appreciate the animals from a distance.
“They have shown to be incredibly resilient and able to coexist with us and tolerate human disturbance,” Fox said. “We haven’t shown that kind of tolerance for the species.”