MS. REBECCA SHEIR
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
Okay. So do you want to tell everyone who you are?
MS. SHANNON PEDERSON
Sure. My name is Shannon Pederson. I'm the program manager at the Wildlife Society.
And can you explain where we are taking a stroll right now?
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.
Residents like Greg Steele.
MR. GREG STEELE
They're here for sure.
Steele is walking a small black dog.
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.
Pederson says there are few telltale signs that it's really a coyote.
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.
By the way, is it coyotes or cayotes?
Well, in the D.C. area, we seem to say coyotes, everywhere else they say cayotes so both are acceptable.
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 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.
And they are everywhere, including Baltimore and Rock Creek Park in D.C.
Through all of the continental U.S. now. I think all that's left really is Hawaii.
And as coyotes have moved out of the Midwest, Pederson says they've changed.
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.
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.
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 right around the metro.
Could they -- would they attack people?
There is always that possibility, especially if we act in a manner that is reinforcing that.
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.
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.
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.
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.
She 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.
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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