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Coyotes Trot Around Columbia University; Panic Ensues

Three coyotes were spotted trotting around Columbia University in upper Manhattan this past week. The Ivy League university put out a public safety warning for all students to be on the lookout for the canines. DNAinfo says these sightings were Wednesday; Gawker puts it at Sunday.

Three animals identified as coyotes were observed in front of Lewisohn Hall [116th Street and Broadway] this morning, 911 was contacted and NYPD responded. NYPD spotted one of the animals and confirmed it was a coyote. The one coyote that was seen by NYPD and CUPS went behind the CEPSR build and it is believed exited the campus.
An additional sighting by CU facilities was called in approximately 10:00 AM this morning but was not confirmed. All members of the community are advised not to approach these animals.

There’s a bit of a breathless freak-out online, but many New Yorkers have been wiser, pointing out they could help with the rat and pigeon problems. They’ll figure it out and go back to New Jersey or Westchester or wherever they’re from. (Columbia is within a mile or two of five smaller bridges to the Bronx.) They must be pretty unobtrusive to have made it all the way to Columbia–through some of the most densely populated areas in the country–without anybody noticing.

As a wildlife rehabber, I sometimes get calls from New Yorkers about raccoons. The raccoons aren’t in distress; people just assume they must be in some kind of trouble to end up here. The research by biologist Jon Way up on Cape Cod shows how coyotes maintain their own territories, but until the find the right place, they can move great distances as transients, getting a free pass through other coyotes’ turf.

The very few coyote attacks on records have mainly been on unattended children. This being New York City, people don’t leave kids, pets or anything else they value unattended anyway.

Others question the NYPD’s judgment that these animals were coyotes and not just stray dogs. It is hard to tell, especially from a distance. Coyotes are much more spooky; they are generally terrified of people. Their scat is often full of fur. When they run, they put their back paws in the same track as their front paws. This “direct register” track is much more tidy and efficient.

Way’s research shows that the people of Morningside Heights would be far safer if those were coyotes roaming around.

 Eastern Coyote (Coywolf) facts:

    Feeds mostly on small mammals
§         Opportunistic predators – fruit to meat
§         Mice, voles, rabbits, woodchucks
§         Larger mammals where available (like deer)
    Dangerous food items
    Habitat: Rural (wilderness) to urban
§         Prefers edge habitat
§         Agricultural and suburban areas are perfect
    Provide cover and high prey numbers (edge habitat)
§         Lives in 49 of 50 U.S. states and everywhere except Long Island and offshore island.
Are Coyotes Dangerous?  Keep it in Perspective: Coyotes vs. Dogs
    4.7 million dog bites per year in U.S.
§         800,000 need medical attention
§         1,000 people per day go to ER
§         15-20 people, on average, die per year
     3-4 coyote bites in Massachusetts’ history
§         2 of 3 or 4 were rabid
§         1 fatality (in California) in recorded history in N.A.
     Dog bite losses exceed $1 billion per year

§         $345 million paid by insurance


Read an interview with John Way

See Wildlife Around New York City

(Alma Mater photo courtesy of by danamdefebbo)

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