The coyote that was shot and killed by police following several recent attacks in Westchester County, north of New York City, was tested and determined that indeed, it had rabies.
According to media reports, at least eight people were bitten last week along with a small dog and a farmer’s sheep.
Police had shot the rabid coyote at the end of the week, near a golf course in Yonkers. There is at least one other coyote at large, implicated in the attacks as of this writing.
According to reports, the rabid yote bit a Westchester County police officer and was then shot at that time.
Coyotes have been observed in the New York City area for at least 10 years. Why the problem now?
Like the whitetail deer, coyotes are amazing survivors. And like the whitetail, their populations are expanding, moving into not only the rural woods of the Northeast, but into the suburbs and urban areas as well, ironically assisted by man.
Coyotes are genetically the same as wolves and dogs and do interbreed.
We have long heard of colloquial names for coyotes such as “coy-dogs,” and “brush wolves,” but generally the different strains of canines, for the most part, have kept their chromosomes separate to a large degree in a reproductive sense. These wild dogs are territorial critters and where their boundaries overlap, the fur flies.
But now, it seems that Mr. and Mrs. Smith in the ‘burbs not only have to worry about whitetails munching their prized ornamental bushes and shrubs, but must be careful for this newest four-legged threat, the lurking danger of coyotes, ready to have pet kitty cat or pooch “over for dinner.”
Coyotes mate for life like wolves and drop their pups in the late winter and early spring. With a hungry litter to feed, the parents prowl far and wide to feed the little bellies back at the den.
Right now, coming in March and April to a neighborhood near you, in the Northeast and Midwest … not at all a reach to say that there are thousands of litters of coyote pups ready to hit the ground.
It’s a shame when game management is not practiced in pockets of non-hunting areas that allow wildlife populations to become an unmanageable problem. Coyotes as well as whitetail populations get literally “out of control” by well-meaning, big-hearted people who not yet understand the necessity of game management.
Whitetails at their worst are obnoxious pests, dining on the most exotic and expensive shrubbery around the houses, gardens, nurseries, orchards, and jumping in front of vehicles. All these negatives weighed against the aesthetic beauty and deep meaning of the whitetails’ presence that we all enjoy.
Coyotes slip into our neighborhoods mostly under the cover of darkness and finish off Rover’s or Garfield’s bowl of food on the back porch (or Rover or Garfield as the entrée).
Kind, but myopic people actually encourage coyotes to lose their fear of man by feeding them. The New York state DEC as well as other wildlife agencies urge, in the strongest words possible that we must stop attracting alpha predators (coyotes and bear) with supplemental feeding.
The earliest laws passed by settlers at the first town board meetings in Western New York set the price for a wolf bounty. Wolves were not so much a direct danger to the earliest settlers, despite Hollywood’s hyperbole. But similarly to their current smaller cousin, a dangerous pest, sometimes catastrophically killing livestock.
Our modern coyote in the Northeast has evolved into a very intelligent survivor and is coming back, reclaiming the territory where it once thrived in a slightly larger form. DNA studies now show that the traditional coyote has crossbred with timber wolves in Algonquin Park, Ontario and moved south.
“I’m back,” he howls.
This past month, the Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs of Sullivan County (NY) wrapped up their three-day coyote hunt (their 11th annual). In three days, 611 hunters killed 61 coyotes. The top three weights of the coyotes were 52, 48 and 47 pounds. Half of the coyotes taken were hunted with dogs, the rest shot over bait.
If unchecked and unmanaged, the eventual result of our state- and region-wide coyote population boom could be as horrific as it would be historic.
The onus is on the DEC and other game departments and conservation organizations to spread enlightenment to prevent overpopulation.
Nature’s retribution for those of us who do not heed her mandate: “If you don’t accept the responsibility for managing your natural surroundings, then I will.”
And nature’s way, the natural way, is always a locally apocalyptic, boom and bust. And one of the Four Horsemen is disease (i.e. rabies).
Dealing with a hungry coyote is one thing, but taking on a rabid one creates a scene of an entirely different magnitude and dimension.
Our pets are especially vulnerable. The DEC warns cat owners to keep these pets indoors, likewise with owners of small dogs. Good advice indeed.
Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing Sunday on the Outdoors page.