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Chicago: A coyote kind of town

By JoshMogerman in Miscellaneous on Dec 18, 2010 8:00PM

Coyote in the Wild [Jim Nix via Flickr]
We had to chuckle at the breathless coverage of yesterday’s rescue operation in which a Chicago Fire Department boat was dispatched with city Animal Control staffers to save “Holly,” a coyote stuck floating on a tiny ice flow in Belmont Harbor. The story so captured the attention of this town’s media that, for once, Rahm Emanuel almost disappeared from the headlines for the day…almost. But as funny as the story must look to media watchers---it must be an astounding cultural disconnect for folks in the Rocky Mountains, where coyotes are considered problematic varmints and your tax dollars go to poison, trap, or shoot almost 100,000 of them annually.

Holly was the latest in a growing list of stories that remind us just how pervasive coyotes have become in Chicago’s urban landscape in recent years. There were wild coyote visits to Lincoln Park Zoo in 2004 and 2005. Poodle predation at Lincolnwood Mall in 2006. The infamous cooler coyote at a downtown Quizno’s in 2007. Debate over a culling plan in Wheaton earlier this year. And amazing video of a coyote sauntering down State Street recently… Yup, Chicago is a coyote’s kind of town---we even named a prominent building after the critters.

So, while coyotes are viewed as a threat out west, we seem to be embracing them here. And that has a lot to do with differences in the urban and western landscapes. Here, we are thrilled to see coyotes helping to limit nuisance species like rodents, rabbits, Canadian geese, and suburban deer. It is natural, cost-effective, and arguably a valuable service to limit the growing population of lap dogs (thankfully, the fad of carrying them around in one's purse has faded). However, coyotes are considered by many to be the nuisance when they come into competition with people by eating livestock, deer, and elk. In those areas, residents must be scratching their heads when they see video of a concerted governmental effort to pluck a coyote out of freezing water rather than shooting it.

As the canny canids have moved in, local government has been watching. Cook County runs the largest urban coyote study in the world in conjunction with Ohio State University and the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation. To track where the furry foragers are and how they spend time, the study follows 250 radio collared coyotes. One thing is clear, they are everywhere:

“Nine million people live in the greater Chicago area,” said [coyote researcher Stanley] Gehrt, who is also a wildlife extension specialist at Ohio State. “We didn't think very many coyotes could thrive in such a highly urbanized area. We couldn't find an area in Chicago where there weren't coyotes. They've learned to exploit all parts of their landscape.”

And why wouldn’t they love it here? Plenty of fat, juicy mice. Lots of empty buildings to comfortably sleep off a goose bender in peace. And, since there are not bigger predators or wildlife officials hunting them down nonstop, urban coyotes live longer here. So, expect more Hollys soon, because the coyotes keep coming.

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