by SINDYA N. BHANOO,
In March 2010, a wild coyote led the police on a chase through Lower Manhattan. The vagabond was ultimately caught in a parking lot in TriBeCa.
It was just one of many coyotes that have wandered into the city over the years. At least four others were sighted the same year, in Harlem, near Columbia University and in Central Park. They’ve also been seen in Los Angeles, Chicago and in the Boston area.
The growing presence of these top predators in New York City has piqued the interest of researchers, who say that coyotes in human territory might not be such a bad thing.
“What happens is that when there’s a top predator, it will help control other levels of the food chain,” said Mark Weckel, an ecologist and doctoral student at the City University of New York.
Mr. Weckel is also the director of research and land management at the Mianus River Gorge Preserve. He and his colleagues are trying to track the migratory patterns of coyotes through New York City and beyond.
“Coyotes in the Northeast have been moving eastward over the past 100 years,” he said. “Our real interest is where are they going and how are they getting there.”
He suggests that the coyotes of New York City made their way over from the Adirondacks. And with the help of students from the High School for Environmental Studies in Manhattan, Mr. Weckel has been capturing the city’s coyotes on camera for two years.
Jason Bonet, 16, one of the students who is helping to set up the cameras and to log images, says he has installed about 15 cameras throughout the city’s parks. Every month, the images are retrieved. The coyotes are “rare — but not extremely rare,” Jason said. “I’ve seen about three or four.”
Coyotes live in small packs of three or four and are territorial. As their populations grow, they naturally need to spread their range. Mr. Weckel expects that the coyotes of New York City will continue moving east and soon make their way to Long Island.
The coyote expansion might be a good thing, some reason, because the animals prey on a pest that most New Yorkers tend to hate: rodents. Coyotes may also be competing with other animals like raccoons for food resources. This may help dampen an overpopulation of raccoons, Mr. Weckel said.
Still, park lovers fearful of encountering a coyote needn’t worry much, he said. The animals live deep inside places like Van Cortlandt Park and Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx.
“These areas we are working in are technically New York City, but they aren’t the skylines you’d imagine,” Mr. Weckel said. “And we’re working deep off the trails, places where you’d think you were in the middle of Catskills.”
A reminder: it’s important that park visitors who do encounter coyotes never feed or engage with them, said Sarah Aucoin, the director of the Urban Park Rangers program for New York City’s parks department.
“Coyotes exist throughout the nation and the region, and are common in many urban areas – including Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as in New York City’s nearby suburbs,” she said in a statement. “As with all wild animals, coyotes should be observed and enjoyed from a distance, and never fed or handled by the public.”
There is no count yet of coyotes in New York City. It’s a challenge: “We’re moving to a new phase where we’ll collect genetic samples from their feces,” Mr. Weckel said.
For now, all that the researchers know is that the coyotes’ densities are fairly low. And it’s unlikely that one will be wandering near Times Square anytime soon, he said.
More about the coyote-tracking project can be found in the current issue of The Wildlife Professional, a magazine of the Wildlife Society.
(Source: www.nytimes.com )