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Coyotes Are Here To Stay In D.C. Region

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A coyote at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, Va.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/bathtubjinn/2914583941/
A coyote at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, Va.

Shannon Pederson, the program manager at the Wildlife Society, says many residents have spotted coyotes along Lake Thoreau in Reston, Va. One such residents is Greg Steele, who walks his small, black dog in the area.

"...A coyote was just in the middle of the road at dusk just looking at us. We thought it was a mangy fox, but it's too large for a fox; its legs are too long," he says.

Pederson says there are a few telltale signs that it's really a coyote.

"When they do run, they do carry their tail down, and that's one way we can tell it's a coyote. Also what's unique about them is most of them have this black tip on the end of their tail it looks like their tail was dipped in ink," she says.

Coyotes have been recorded in this area since about 2004, but this is not at all their native range, Pederson says they've come here from the Midwest over decades.

"We've opened up access for them to be here. We've eliminated their top predators -- wolves, grizzly bears, and bobcats -- and then also we've moved westward and as we moved westward we made more corridors for them to move eastward," she says.

And they are everywhere, including Rock Creek Park in D.C. and Baltimore.

"Throughout all of the continental U.S. now, I think all that's left is Hawaii," Pederson says.

And as coyotes have moved out of the Midwest, she says they've changed.

"One path moved north through Canada and actually ended up breeding with wolves and spread eastward, and others took more of a southern route along the U.S. and then those two lines converged right around here, right around the mid-Atlantic area...and now we have what we call the eastern coyote," Pederson says.

This new, eastern coyote is bigger -- up to 50 pounds versus 30 pounds out West -- and more variable.

"Each metropolitan area has coyotes that exhibit a unique series of biology and behaviors," she says.

So they look a little different, they're different in terms of what time of day or night they're active, they're even different in what they eat -- and that's where Pederson says people need to be careful. Coyotes have been known to eat just about anything: garbage, deer, rats, geese, and pets.

"In 2004, right near the West Falls Church Metro Station, they did attack two small dogs a woman was walking around the Metro," Pederson says.

Would they, could they attack humans?

"There is always that possibility, especially small children," she says.

Pederson says people should keep a close eye on their pets and children when they're outside; don't let small pets outside near forested areas. She recommends cleaning up extra birdseed so you don't attract rodents, and therefore coyotes. But above all -- above everything -- Pederson says do not feed them.

"Never, ever feed coyotes it's led to so many problems in the past. You can link almost every case of an attack on humans and their pets...to evidence of it being fed by humans," she says.

Part of the reason why coyotes have managed to survive so well in cities -- and often go undetected there -- is because they are so adaptable, and so secretive. They avoid humans at all cost. So if you run into a coyote and it's not afraid of getting close to you, she says for the good of everyone you need to make it afraid.

"We need to instill that fear aback in them, we need to be big and bad, and make a lot of noise...Wave your arms around, scream," she says.

Pederson says if we're successful, we can enjoy the benefits of coyotes. They can keep down the rat and deer population, for example.

"It's fantastic that they're here, we can benefit from their services, but we just have to make sure that we keep them wild," she says.

Peterson says coyotes are here to stay, and so to keep them wild we need to keep our distance.

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