Parks department: We have to live with coyotes

After series of attacks, the four-legged canines have been talk of the nabe


Coyote panic continues to be felt in Riverdale. Online, several animal owners have recently told tales of aggressive interactions with the canines. Most recently, on Sukkot, a small dog was killed around Fieldston by a pack and left uneaten blocks away from the incident.

On Memorial Day, a cat was killed and later found by its owners with coyote fur in its paws. Residents now report hearing them yip throughout the night.

Yet these incidents, while alarming and heartbreaking, may just be a fact of life in the area. So last month, a biologist with the city’s parks department — at the urging of Councilman Eric Dinowitz and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz — hosted a forum for the northwest Bronx to further educate the public about the species in the hopes of quelling mounting fears. 

“A healthy coyote is not going to attack a person unprovoked. They’re not aggressive,” Sunny Corrao of the parks department told residents at the Nov. 17 meeting. “Coyotes have learned to be wary of larger predators, and in NYC, we humans are the top predator.” Corrao works as an associate biologist for the wildlife unit within the parks department.

“There is little reason to fear coyotes, but it is important to recognize that with all wildlife, there’s that potential for negative interactions to exist,” she said.

In fact, while dogs may be the recent victims of coyote attacks, there are more reports of people being bitten by domestic dogs annually than by coyotes nationwide, Corrao said. There were 687 coyote incident reports in New York State from May 2005 through January 2014, according to state data. Incidents range from just an unusual sighting of the animal to a full-blown attack.

Before Carrao opened the floor to those in attendance, she answered one of the questions she receives often: Why can’t we just remove them?

The simple fact of the matter is that the coyotes aren’t about to go anywhere

“If a coyote is staying in one general area, then that area is obviously providing the resources it needs. And it’s a suitable habitat,” she said. “If you remove that one individual, it’s only going to be a matter of time before another coyote moves in.”

Besides, it would also be against state regulations to relocate a healthy coyote outside of county lines. “Animals can’t be moved across county lines. So we can’t just remove a coyote and re-release it somewhere else in the state,” Carrao said.

“We don’t want to be bad neighbors. So why do we want to dump something that we are considering a pest into someone else’s neighborhood to deal with when, in fact, it’s probably just a healthy coyote?”

That’s not to mention the fact that the population, if extirpation efforts were undertaken, would most likely just bounce right back.

“If there are a lot of coyotes in the area, the litter size is small,” Carol Henger, an ecologist who studied the animals for her dissertation, previously told The Riverdale Press.

“But if there’s say a lot of hunting — and their numbers are low — they have larger litters. They have a way to just keep rebounding. So we will have to figure out how to live with them,” 

There are instances in which the authorities can remove an individual coyote though: if the coyote has reached a point to where it no longer has a natural fear or weariness of humans. 

“Then unfortunately, the animals would be, probably, lethally removed from the environment. And that’s where the state would get involved,” Carrao told the audience.

According to the state environmental conservation department’s coyote handbook, only when a coyote has bitten a person or a pet on a leash while it is accompanied by a person will the agency immediately recommend putting the coyote down on scene.

“Immediately arrange for a public safety officer … to go to the scene to protect the individual(s).

“Responders should arrive at the scene prepared to humanely destroy the coyote (avoid damage to the head if possible),” the handbook reads. If the incident doesn’t meet that threshold, the department has various other recommendations for dealing with the matter.

Carrao did share some best practices for coexisting harmoniously with the animals. Because, after all, that is what experts and the state recommend. “If a coyote does start to approach you or you feel like it’s starting to approach you, again, it’s curiosity. But we need to turn that curiosity into some fear,” Carrao said.

A common technique to instill this wariness in them is called hazing.

“This is just making loud noises, making yourself appear larger, putting your arms up and waving them so that you can kind of be annoying and appear to be a threat to the coyote,” she said. “And it will eventually decide to leave.”

Still, Carrao cautioned, in order for this technique to be effective, everyone needs to do their part.

coyotes, Eric Dinowitz, Jeffrey Deinowitz, Sunny Carrao, Carol Henger,