Transcripts

Topdogs/Underdogs: Coyotes in the D.C. Region

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:15:58
So, yeah, we'll be hearing about all sorts of underdogs today, but this next story focuses on more of, I guess you could say, a top dog in our region. The coyote is, of course, a species of canine. And back in the day, around these parts anyway, it was so low in the pecking order of predators, you'd be hard-pressed to find one just, you know, wandering around. Well, not anymore. With so many larger predators out of the picture, coyotes are moving in. WAMU's environmental reporter Sabri Ben-Achour met up a with a local wildlife biologist to find out more.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

13:16:33
Okay. So do you want to tell everyone who you are?

MS. SHANNON PEDERSON

13:16:34
Sure. My name is Shannon Pederson. I'm the program manager at the Wildlife Society.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:16:41
And can you explain where we are taking a stroll right now?

PEDERSON

13:16:44
Oh, certainly. We're walking around a road in Reston, Va., right along Lake Thoreau and many residents in the area have spotted coyotes here.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:16:53
Residents like Greg Steele.

MR. GREG STEELE

13:16:55
They're here for sure.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:16:56
Steele is walking a small black dog.

STEELE

13:16:58
A coyote was in the middle of the road just at dusk, just looking at us. We thought it was a mangy fox, but it is too large for a fox. Its legs are too long.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:17:07
Pederson says there are few telltale signs that it's really a coyote.

PEDERSON

13:17:10
They look like a good sized dog. Some people have described them as like a German Shepherd, a smaller size of a wolf. 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 is dipped in ink.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:17:30
By the way, is it coyotes or cayotes?

PEDERSON

13:17:31
Well, in the D.C. area, we seem to say coyotes, everywhere else they say cayotes so both are acceptable.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:17:40
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.

PEDERSON

13:17:48
We've opened up access for them to be here pretty much. We've eliminated their top predators so 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.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:18:06
And they are everywhere, including Baltimore and Rock Creek Park in D.C.

PEDERSON

13:18:09
Through all of the continental U.S. now. I think all that's left really is Hawaii.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:18:14
And as coyotes have moved out of the Midwest, Pederson says they've changed.

PEDERSON

13:18:18
One path moved north through Canada and actually ended up breeding with wolves and spread eastward. And then, 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, they've converged and now we actually have what we call the Eastern Coyote.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:18:38
This new Eastern Coyote is bigger, up to 50 pounds versus 30 pounds out West and more variable.

PEDERSON

13:18:45
Each metropolitan area has coyotes that exhibit a unique series of biology and behaviors.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:18:51
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.

PEDERSON

13:19:06
In 2004, right near the West Falls Church metro station, they did attack two small dogs a woman was walking right around the metro.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:19:14
Could they -- would they attack people?

PEDERSON

13:19:16
There is always that possibility, especially if we act in a manner that is reinforcing that.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:19:24
Pederson says people should keep a close eye on their pets and children when they're outside. And if you have a small pet, don't let it roam 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.

PEDERSON

13:19:41
It's led to so many problems in the past. You can link almost every case of an attack on humans and their pets, you can link almost every single case to evidence of it being fed by humans.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:19:55
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, Pederson says for the good of everyone, you need to make it afraid.

PEDERSON

13:20:10
We need to be big and bad and make a lot of noise so appear bigger, wave your arms around, scream, throw things, let them know you know they're there and then intimidate them to go hide.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:20:27
She says if we're successful, we can enjoy the benefits of coyotes. They can keep down the rat and deer population, for example.

PEDERSON

13:20:33
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.

BEN-ACHOUR

13:20:40
Pederson says the coyotes are here to stay and so to keep them wild, we need to keep our distance. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.
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