NEWS/VIEWS: The coyote is heavily persecuted in North America. At least 400,000 are exterminated annually and yet this wily predator continues to expand its range. They’ve increased their distribution across North America by 40% since the 1950s. Remarkably, National Geographic tell us that this is twice the rate of any other carnivore in North America.
They are found in every US state except Hawaii. Their success has been put down to 2 main factors: they have a character which is a fine balance between being shy and savvy while being bold enough to attack and kill when required. To this you have to combine tenacity. The human contribution is that there’s been a “crash” of the coyote pelt market, an “explosion of food-rich suburbs”, and the near extinction of wolves. You might add to that urban development pushing coyotes from their traditional range to urban areas.
The historic range, before 1900, occupied a central and western part of the United States and Mexico. By 1950 it had expanded north and east. By 2016 the range had further expanded deeper into Alaska and to the north-east of Canada. The experts speculate that they will expand into South America as they are already found in Panama, effectively travelling through Central America to find fresh habitat in the south.
Diseases appear not to have stopped their expansion. When they run out of room they share it better as parents give up some of their territory. Killing them creates a well-known phenomenon called the vacuum effect which allows competitors to move into the vacated territory. It also encourages the coyote to mature quicker and females to produce larger litters.
In some parts of the US the populations have stabilised such as in Denver according to Stuart Breck, a research wildlife biologist with the US Department of Agriculture in Denver.
They occupy areas which blur the boundaries between urban and countryside environments. They are omnivores eating vegetables and fruit while still hunting small mammals such as squirrels and cats both domestic and feral.
Predation on cats
And this is the relevancy of this article. I have not had the pleasure of interviewing people in America as to what they regard as the biggest threat to cats who are allowed to roam outside the home. Some, I’m sure would answer that the coyote is a major influence on their decision to keep their cat companion inside full-time.
If that is the case, the pressure to do so is increasing. The media not infrequently discusses the predation of coyotes on domestic cats in America. Today there is an article on The Advocate website with the headline, “Coyotes are terrorizing Baton Rouge neighborhoods as cats are going missing, residents say”.
Baton Rouge’s coyotes hunting cats
Residents in south Baton Rouge say that there is an upward trend in the number of missing domestic cats. There are signs that coyotes are behind the problem and one person said they discovered a “killing field” of cat remains.
Walter Legett, a resident, said that five years ago they never saw coyotes and he has lived in the area since 1974. He said there’s plenty of cats in the area and it appears that they are making meals of them. One extra factor as to why coyotes are moving into Baton Rouge is displacement from new construction. This must refer to building new settlements and business areas forcing coyotes out of those areas into urban areas.
Neighbours are reporting the sudden disappearance of their cats. Some citizens are seeking the help of wildlife officials to reduce the coyote population. People are seeing the connection between the number of missing cat, and the increased number of coyote sightings.
A new state law which became effective last Friday allows people to hunt coyotes at night as they are considered to be pests. This may not work because of the vacuum effect mentioned above. Further, firing weapons within the city limits of Baton Rouge is banned. A sheriff’s office spokeswoman said that you can’t shoot them in dense neighbourhoods.
It brings to mind another story I wrote about recently. The dingo in Australia is equally resourceful and resilient. When you poison dingoes the survivors become stronger and larger so you don’t really solve the problem. The coyote is very resourceful and you wonder if they will defeat all the efforts of humankind to eradicate them. Perhaps humans should learn to live with them. And perhaps more American cat owners will have to keep their cats inside.