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Urban Coyotes: Why Chicago Should Welcome Wildlife

Andrew Wetzler

Posted October 4, 2012 in Living Sustainably, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places, The Media and the Environment

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urban coyote (photo by Rob John MacKenzie via flickr)Have you noticed a little less munching on your garden by rabbits and squirrels this year?  If you have, it could be that a family of coyotes has taken up residence near your home.  Coyotes, foxes, and other predators play an important role in nature -- not least of which is keeping smaller, often pesky, animal populations in check.  But you would never know that from reading today’s Chicago Tribune.

Instead, in what can only be described as a headline in search of a story, the Tribune breathlessly declares “First coyotes, then wolves, cougars and bears?”  Reading the story you would think that Chicago was on the cusp of an invasion by large toothy carnivores just waiting to cause trouble.

“Coyotes,” asserts the story “have for years been common around Chicago but still don't always fit in so well.”  What evidence does the story provide to back up this predetermined narrative?  Well, none.  Instead we are treated to a single anecdote of a Yorkshire terrier, killed by a coyote in Wheaton last month and a quote by a trapper who gets paid to trap coyotes.  Unsurprisingly, he says we may need to trap more coyotes.  Missing were other anecdotes showing that Chicagoans greatly value their coyotes.  Has the Tribune forgotten “Holly,” a coyote stuck floating on a tiny ice flow in Belmont Harbor, that the Chicago Fire Department sent a boat to rescue?

Also completely absent from the story is any discussion of the numerous benefits that coyotes provide, both in urban environments and more generally.  Do we really want to trade fewer coyotes for more rats?

Nor does the story tell the reader -- despite quoting the expert whose studies show this -- that coyotes almost never kill people’s pets.  In 2007, 1,400 scat samples taken from coyotes in Chicago showed the presence of...wait for it…one cat.  And that could have been a stray.  Buried at the end is the fact that coyote populations in Chicago are actually declining.

As the headline suggest, the Tribune also spends considerable time warning that mountain lions, bears, and wolves may soon join coyotes wandering the streets of Chicago.  But here’s the thing: there have been very few siting of these animals near Chicago.  In fact, the city itself has seen one mountain lion.   That’s it.  And in all of Illinois only three mountain lions and seven wolves have ever been confirmed in the last twelve years.

Not that having more of these animals in Illinois would be a bad thing.  They would provide great ecological benefits to us all and would cause few conflicts with people.  Minnesota boasts almost 3,000 wolves, but the last I heard they weren’t roaming the streets of Minneapolis.  Not that you would know that from reading today’s Tribune.

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Comments

Karen Booream (@listentotheanim)Oct 4 2012 02:36 PM

Yes, we need to expand the world view of urban places and educate the masses. Good article.

ChristineOct 4 2012 03:20 PM

Thank you for the very well written and educating article, if only more people would read it!

Celeste ColeOct 4 2012 03:22 PM

I agree Karen. I am so frustrated by the media and their hype and appreciate you, Andrew, for your fine articles on these subjects. Keep up the good words.

Andrew WetzlerOct 4 2012 04:26 PM

Thanks Christine, thanks Celeste!

LOOct 4 2012 04:49 PM

I'm all for giving wildlife a break but please don't compare coyotes to wolves. Coyotes are coyotes immensely more numerous, and numbers alone increase chances of encounters with humans. Also their natural behavioral inclinations is to be far shier around humans. They naturally stay away. Also their prey-base is large ungulates, plus occasional rabbits and other small prey. They MIGHT go after livestock when pickings are slim in the wild, but that's risky. Wolves don't take the risks that coyotes do. Coyotes are loners or sometimes paired with a mate, and far more likely to scavenge human trash cans and take leftovers, in addition to preferring smaller prey like rabbits, rats, squirrels, voles, chipmunks, maybe even a cat or yorkshire terrier, or one of the other wild mammals that hit urban streets like possums. Coyotes are even genetically more different from wolves than dogs are; MUCH different. Point is, such comparisons are a big mistake. Each animal is it's own.

Sandra DeRosiaOct 4 2012 06:28 PM

I live near Denver, CO and there is a pack of coyotes that lives across the street from me. They've never tried to attack me or my dogs. They do their own thing and mind their own business. The only time they're bothersome is at 3am when they start howling and can be a little loud lol. But, I certainly don't fear them.

They will eat a small cat or dog if they get the chance, but as a pet owner, that's your responsibility to keep your pet safe. The same pet could also get hit by a car if it were out and about alone, but we're not going to get rid of cars either.

Pet owners need to keep their pets on a leash at all times or safe in a fenced-in yard and then there is nothing to worry about. It's rare a coyote would try to attack a pet with its owner and if it did happen, it was likely the coyote didn't see the human.

Eisus LarsonOct 4 2012 07:39 PM


One of my biggest pet peves is irresponsible journalism - They can create so much strife, when there doesn't have to be any. Apparently, they don't have to research the information they print about, and so many people believe it because they read it in the paper. It's irresponsibility like this that causes people to become irrational and think they need to go out and shoot the coyotes, because there was one roaming the streets and the rest of the wildlife will follow. Thanks for taking responsibility with your journalism blog.

Joan PapesOct 4 2012 11:34 PM

Actually, a study done in TN several years ago showed that the largest part of a coyote diet is wild berries. Can you even begin to imagine what the rodent population in Chicago or other big cities would be if it were not for natural predators.? I agree with the lady from CO who leaves her neighboring coyotes alone and they tend to their own business.

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