Friday, February 05, 2010

Blakeman on Coyotes in Central Park

Coyote at The Pool -- 103rd and Central Park West -- 2/2/10

John Blakeman has some sobering thoughts about the idea of welcoming a coyote to our Central Park Nature Community. He writes:

I tend to share the thoughts of the writer from Georgia. Coyotes on Manhattan can be problematic from several standpoints.

As the writer implied, coyotes are not domestic dogs that eat bagged or canned dog food (although they will if it is found). They are extremely cunning and opportunistic canine predators, capable and willing to kill and eat essentially any animal they encounter.

Coyotes have a particular taste for house cats. The Central Park coyote will go out of its way to find and kill and eat any of these it can smell or see. And small dogs wondering about on their own could be reduced to coyote protein.

Doubtless, the coyote will subsist on rats and garbage, mostly rats. I encounter an extended family group of coyotes at the NASA Plum Brook Station here in northern Ohio, where I'm in charge of conducting prescribed fires (up to 400 acres at a time, totaling up to 2500 acres each year) to restore tallgrass prairie vegetation to these large open meadows surrounding NASA's world-class engineering facilities (for example, the world's largest space environment chamber, 100 ft wide and 120-ft tall, with full space vacuum and temperature conditions).

When we do our burns we sometimes see a dozen or so resident coyotes moving right out in front of the flame front advancing across a giant open meadow. The coyotes learn quickly that the flames push meadow voles and other rodents out in front of the flames. As the rodents run along to avoid the flames, the coyotes pounce on them.

The coyotes in recent years have learned to search for and kill new-born white-tailed deer fauns. They prefer not to kill adult deer, but young fauns and small yearly deer can be quickly taken down by a few coyotes. We see the remains of these, a pile of dissembled small deer bones, after our burns each spring, hard evidence of coyote predation in the previous year.

The initial presumption might be that coyotes in Central Park are merely a welcomed new member of the wild fauna of Manhattan .That could change, however, should the animal begins to hunt in the manner it's capable of. These are not just undomesticated German shepherds or other friendly dogs. Coyotes are very serious and capable large predators. Yes, they could rip apart any human they might elect to attack. Right now, that's not so likely. But when a resident coyote gets hungry during a period of time when its normal food is hard to find, say during a very cold winter period when rats remain in sewers and other sordid rat shelters, who knows what a quasi-domesticated or urban-adapted coyote might resort to.

Consider this. The laws of New York City, I would presume, prohibit any resident's keeping of a pet lion or tiger, or wolf. And rightly so. All of these are large predators that have no place, either for themselves, or for humans, in dense urban areas. From the same perspective, should an unconfined coyote be allowed to roam in Central Park?
Right now, with a still only a single coyote roaming Manhattan, the dangers are reduced. But what happens when a second or third coyote somehow wanders in? What will be the result of a breeding population of these large predators confined to the somewhat meager natural prey populations of the area? Will hungry and competitive coyotes then start to hunt semi-cooperatively, being willing then to corner and attack larger animals, say defenseless sub-adult humans?

Then, what happens when rabies becomes ensconced in the population?
Neither Manhattan in general, or Central Park in particular, are ideal for coyotes. As controversial as this would be received by many, I personally believe that this specimen should be removed from CP in whatever manner that works. This is not a cartoon episode, or a contrived episode of "Nature." I seriously doubt this is going to end well, especially if the animal is left to its own diverse, even fearsome devises. A bit of biological reality, not poetic faunal romance, should prevail.

And can you believe this? Exactly as I'm writing this, about 9:00 pm here at my rural residence, I just heard a coyote yip and howl just a few hundred yards out in the prairie I planted behind my house. I've heard this animal several times before. It's aurally marking it's territory, getting ready to breed and raise young this spring. But it will not be confined in its wanderings (up to 10 miles each night) by urban streets or buildings. Out here, things are pretty settled.

Coyotes --- plural -- in Manhattan? Not much good can come of this I fear. Pale Male and the other red-tailed hawks have wonderfully learned to adapt to the unique habitat and prey conditions of Manhattan and greater New York City without any real problems. Would that this might be so for coyotes. But I fear that this will be difficult, if not impossible.

--John Blakeman

Meanwhile, Veryl Witmer, the photographer who took the photos I posted here yesterday, made the Big Time. His story and photos of the coyote appeared yesterday on the City Room blog of the NY Times. Here's a link:,%20central%20park&st=cse