Coyote reports from California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania; and a Travel Warning for Queensland, Australia.

Coyote. Photo by Jim Peaco. Courtesy National Park Service.

California 02/08/11 ktvu.com: Some Dublin residents told KTVU that recent sightings of coyotes in nearby hills were getting too close and too frequent for comfort. Home owner Steve Chen said he saw three coyotes walking on a ridge of West Dublin Park Monday morning.  Chen said he sees coyotes once a week, but this was the first time he saw three at once.  “I just wanted to make sure we are safe. We walk the trail everyday,” said Chen.  The East Bay Regional Park District oversees West Dublin Park. Steven Bobzien, a wildlife biologist with the park, said coyotes tend to be very shy of people.  He explained coyotes prey primarily on rodents and other small animals and only occasionally on deer.  Coyotes weighs 30 to 40 pounds and are native to California  “Whatever you do, don’t feed them,” Bobzien said.  Experts were advising residents to keep their pets close to them when walking in the area and preferably on a leash.  Area resident Richard Vandeboom took the news about the coyotes in stride.  “We’re surrounded by the park, which is really nice, so I expect to have wild animals here,” said Vandeboom.  Chen’s wife Laura Zhu said she didn’t plan to hike in the park again until she learns more about coyotes  “I won’t go there by myself, alone. I will need to go with somebody, ” said Zhu. She also said she was sympathetic to the coyotes.  “We are actually invading their territory, so we have to live together I guess,” admitted Zhu.  The California Fish and Game Department offers information on coyotes in a pamphlet. Experts say coyotes generally avoid humans and are not a threat. If you encounter a coyote, the pamphlet recommends scaring the animals away by yelling.

Illinois 02/02/11 chicagotribune.com: by Ralph Zahorik and Robert Channick –  If it seems as though coyotes are on the rise in the Chicago area, there is science behind the hype.  Though sightings remain relatively rare, wild coyotes today are nearly everywhere in Chicagoland, including downtown Chicago, says an expert who has spent the last decade studying the metropolitan area’s population.

Stanley Gehrt, an associate professor at Ohio State University’s School of Environment and Natural Resources and principal investigator for the Cook County Coyote Project, presented some of his research team’s findings in Grayslake recently. Among them:

•The coyote population has been exploding in the last 20 years in Chicago and its suburbs, and the growth is likely to continue.

•Urban coyotes, like their rural cousins, survive mainly by eating rodents, along with deer (mainly carcasses) and fruit. They typically avoid humans and don’t eat much garbage. Cats make up about 1 percent of urban coyotes’ diet, but coyotes might kill cats as rivals, since both are “rodent-killing machines,” Gehrt said.

•Coyotes have been a factor in controlling the population of Canada geese, widely considered a pest in the Chicago region. The annual growth rate of the goose population has fallen from about 10 percent at its high to about 1 percent now, Gehrt said. Coyotes also help control growing numbers of deer by catching and eating fawns, the study found.

•Coyote couples, alpha males and females, generally stay together for life. They mate in February, and pups are born in April. Coyotes use dens only during for a brief time in spring when their pups are being raised.

•They live in packs of about a half-dozen related adults. Solitary coyotes without territories roam hundreds of miles looking for unclaimed land.

•Urban coyotes live longer than their country cousins. The chief cause of death is being hit by a vehicle.

The study hasn’t compiled coyote numbers, but there’s evidence of tremendous growth. In 1989, animal control agencies removed just 20 coyotes from locations in the Chicago area, Gehrt said. In recent years, 300 to 400 annually have been removed, either relocated or euthanized, he said.  “All of us are living with coyotes now,” Gehrt said. “We might not see them, but they’re everywhere. … We don’t know when the explosive growth of coyotes is going to stop. This is a new thing … But we know they’re successful in spite of us, not because of us.”

The same trend seems to be happening in other U.S. cities, he said. In the 19th century, coyotes were confined to the plains and grasslands of the West and Southwest. As wolves and other big predators were killed off, coyotes moved in. They now occupy nearly all of North America and have moved deep into Central America.  Their latest move, over the last 20 years, has been into cities and suburban areas.

Researchers found a number of packs living and hunting in Schaumburg, for example. A pack occupied a cemetery in Park Ridge for two years, Gehrt said. Like most coyotes in the region, these were nocturnal.

He and his researchers have filmed coyotes roaming the streets of downtown Chicago, always at night, and often following regular routes. One solitary coyote his team tracked ranged from the suburban North Shore to Chicago’s Near West Side. Other coyotes have been spotted in Lincoln Park, at Navy Pier and around the Museum of Science and Industry, even near the John Hancock Center, he said.

Radio tracking shows that coyote packs stay close to home in urban areas, some roaming less than a square mile, Gehrt said. Nonresident, solitary coyotes roam a lot farther, always on the lookout for vacant territories.  “If you remove coyotes from a territory, new ones will move in in two weeks,” Gehrt said.

Coyotes, which average 30 to 35 pounds in the Chicago area, occasionally kill dogs, generally smaller breeds. A dog was attacked by a coyote last month in Highland Park. They usually go after small dogs, and while large dogs generally scare them off, coyotes have been known to attack and even kill larger breeds, Gehrt said.

He advised dog owners never to leave pet or wildlife food out at night or feed coyotes, to install motion detection lights in their yards if animals are left out and to “let coyotes know you own the yard” if you see one lurking about by “yelling and throwing things at it.”  Protecting “free-ranging cats” from coyotes is “hopeless,” he said.  Other experts concur with many of Gehrt’s findings.

Bob Bluett, wildlife biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in Springfield, said “explosion” is an appropriate word to describe the population trends since the early 1970s. He said they tend to be more visible in winter because it’s mating season.  “They’re like ghosts moving around the landscape,” Bluett said.

Tim Preuss, wildlife biologist with the Lake County Forest Preserve District, said sightings were extremely rare 15 to 20 years ago. “Now, almost every open area has a coyote population,” he said.  There have been no coyote attacks on humans in the Chicago area, and Bluett agreed that would be highly unlikely, though they’ve happened elsewhere.

While individual coyotes are sometimes removed through lethal means — typically when they become too “habituated to people” or start taking pet dogs — Bluett and other experts generally prefer educating people on peaceful coexistence to removal.

The Lake County Forest Preserve District started posting signs near active dens about five years ago, warning visitors to keep dogs on leashes and stay on trails, Preuss said.  After the attack on a dog, the city of Highland Park issued a warning discouraging wildlife feeding and suggested that, if confronted by a coyote, residents make a lot of noise to try to scare them off.

There are no plans for curbing the growing coyote population.  “Unless there’s some immediate public safety threat, we don’t really intervene,” said Sgt. Chris O’Neill, who heads animal control for the Highland Park police.  At the center of encroaching coyote conflicts, west suburban Wheaton had three separate attacks on dogs and hundreds of sightings last year. In January 2010, a 20-pound terrier was mauled in its owner’s backyard and subsequently euthanized, prompting a controversial culling campaign in the spring.

The city paid DeKalb-based animal control expert Rob Erickson about $5,000 to trap and shoot five coyotes near the Chicago Golf Club, where the suspect coyote may have roamed.  Public outcry — and reported death threats directed at Erickson — curtailed the program and convinced officials to take a different approach.

“Culling is not effective because other coyotes will just fill that void,” said Wheaton Assistant City Manager Mike Dzugan, who crafted a less lethal coyote policy adopted by the village last November. “We need to scare them away.”  The plan encourages residents to engage in hazing — using such tactics as loud noises, threatening gestures, and rocks and golf balls — to chase the coyotes away. The city also adopted an ordinance that prohibits wildlife feeding, with violators facing fines of at least $100 per unauthorized meal.

Reserving the right to cull as a last resort, the city’s resolve to seek peaceful coexistence was quickly put to the test. In November, a small, unattended dog was found dead from a presumed coyote attack, while last month another small dog survived a backyard attack by three coyotes a few minutes after being let outside by its owner.  “The two recent attacks were basically a coyote being a coyote,” Dzugan said. 

Facing widespread problems, several Chicago-area municipalities have contacted Wheaton to consider a similar coyote policy, Dzugan said. Others have turned to coyote culler Erickson, whose services remain in great demand.  Last year, he culled some 200 coyotes from the North Shore to the south suburbs, a 30 percent increase over 2009. He doesn’t see business slowing down this year, and is skeptical the Wheaton approach will prove successful.

“This problem isn’t going to go away,” Erickson said. “Once a coyote becomes habituated, he’s going to have to be killed.”  Erickson says that while coyotes might turn tail and run during hazing encounters, the wild animals could also opt for fight rather than flight, with potentially deadly consequences. As such, he believes lethal force — still permissible in the rural farmland he inhabits — is the only sure deterrent.  “If a coyote sees my truck slow down and he’s 2,000 yards away, he breaks into a dead run,” Erickson said. “In Wheaton, they pose for pictures.”

Pennsylvania 02/06/11 timesleader.com: by Tom Venesky – The eastern coyote migrated into Pennsylvania in the late 1960s from the Catskill Mountains in New York and they spread rapidly.  Today, the Pennsylvania Game Commission estimates there are more than 50,000 coyotes occupying almost every county in the state.  The eastern coyote is different from those that occupy the western U.S. both in size – the eastern variety is larger — and in genetics. The origin of the eastern coyote is a result of interbreeding between coyotes and gray wolves in Canada, and it is the largest canine in Pennsylvania.

Coyote-Wolf Hybrid.

 The presence of wolf genes contributes to several color phases, including black, silver and brown. Male eastern coyotes can weigh up to 60 pounds, while females weigh between 35 and 40 pounds.  Coyotes pair up and breed in February and generally have five to seven pups in a litter, which is born in April and May.  The diet of the coyote is varied, ranging from small mice to deer. They will also eat carrion, plants and berries.  Coyotes will occasionally prey on livestock. According to a PGC study, sheep and poultry were the most common livestock prey species.  The home range of a coyote is extensive – sometimes as much as 100 miles – but 30 to 50 miles is more common. In 2009, a trapper in Monroe County trapped a coyote that had been captured by wildlife officials in Oneonta, N.Y., a year earlier.

Travel Warnings:

Australia 02/08/11 abc.net.au: by Kirsty Nancarrow – Authorities in Innisfail, south of Cairns in far north Queensland, are continuing to warn people about the threat of dengue fever, with seven cases now confirmed.  The latest outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease was identified 10 days ago.  Cassowary Coast Mayor Bill Shannon says the council and Queensland Health staff were door-knocking properties near the outbreak before Cyclone Yasi.  “With water around in all these sorts of situations anywhere in the wet tropics, people should be taking precautions against catching dengue or any other mosquito-borne diseases,” he said.  There have also been two new cases of dengue fever diagnosed in the Townsville suburb of Cranbrook.

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