From city foxes to deadly deer, wildlife encounters in urban areas remind us that we share our green spaces with many others. The newest denizen of the most densely humanified spaces, coyotes, feature in a study of urban ecology at EcoSummit 2012.
Stan Gehrt, an ecologist from Ohio State University, has tracked communities of coyotes in the greater Chicago metropolitan area for over a decade. He estimates that over 2000 coyotes share their ecosystem with the humans that call Chicago home.
Although Gehrt admits that wild animal encounters frequently disturb the humans that believe they have safely isolated themselves from the dangers of carnivores in the wild, he believes that the proximity of wildlife to our hubs of habitation will continue to increase:
It used to be rural areas where we would have this challenge of coexistence versus conflict with carnivores. In the future, and I would say currently, it’s cities where we’re going to have this intersection between people and carnivores. We used to think only little carnivores could live in cities, and even then we thought they couldn’t really achieve large numbers. But we’re finding that these animals are much more flexible than we gave them credit for and they’re adjusting to our cities.
Moreover, Gehrt suggests that the adaptability of coyotes may be evidence that even larger carnivores -- wolves, mountain lions, and bears -- may soon join coyotes in setting up house next door. He reflects, "The coyote is the test case for other animals. Raccoons, skunks, foxes – they’ve already been able to penetrate the urban landscape pretty well. The coyote is the most recent and largest. The jury’s out with what’s going to happen with the bigger ones."
Urban planners may have to take this development more seriously. Elimination programs engender protests, and may not be the best solution. Carnivores like coyotes provide a service by killing deer fawns -- helping to keep populations of deer, more dangerous to humans than coyotes by far, under control -- and by eating small mammals that carry disease.