Make way for coyotes. And we're not talking about the one captured Saturday in lower Manhattan.
With one official coyote sighting on eastern Long Island, as well as breeding evidence and social groups caught on camera in the Bronx, the development of a coyote breeding community on Long Island, which would include Queens, is "inevitable," researchers say.
As a result, a group of wildlife researchers plans to capitalize on this "rare and time-sensitive opportunity" by monitoring coyotes' arrival, studying their social and ecological impacts and working to better understand and head off conflict with humans.
"Long Island affords a natural experiment by which to better understand the ecological role of coyotes," along with "patterns of human-wildlife interaction," according to a report released online Wednesday in Cities and the Environment, a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Indeed, the Island, along with parts of New York City, is among "the last large land masses" in the contiguous states with no northeastern coyote breeding population, the report says.
One goal of the group of 12 to 15 researchers is to prepare the public, letting residents know that, like raccoons and opossums, coyotes "are very afraid of humans and will stay as far away as they can get," said Russell L. Burke, chairman of Hofstra University's biology department. He is one of six co-authors of "Coyotes Go 'Bridge and Tunnel,' " a report on the value of starting research and education programs well before the creatures' mass arrival.
Apart from coyotes with rabies, with two such infected animals reported recently in New Jersey, risks for humans are ordinarily "very small," he said. Attracting them with food, however, can cause them to lose natural fear and result in attacks.
During the past 200 years there's been "an amazing range expansion" of coyotes, which are now "well-established" in other parts of New York, and in New Jersey and Connecticut, the report says. There have been unofficial reports, but the only officially confirmed coyote sighting for Long Island was in July 2013 in a Bridgehampton field, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. But with the coyotes' presence documented in the city, including at a park near the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, which connects to Long Island, the report says, they can be considered to be setting their sights east.
A time frame for their arrival is tricky to pin down, Burke said, estimating five to 20 years for their numbers to build, meaning the open window for gathering pre-arrival data is now.
Plans for outreach and public education are already underway, Burke said, as well as wildlife cameras and surveys for assessing population estimates of creatures ranging from opossums and raccoons to mice and even ticks. Also active is a citizen scientist initiative at WildSuburbiaProject.com, where in the metro survey section Long Islanders can post photos and details of their sightings.
As "one of the most logical areas for coyotes to get established," the central pine barrens stands a good chance for ecosystem impacts, said Timothy Green, natural resources manager with Brookhaven National Laboratory, which is located there. Plans are already afoot, with the setting out of wildlife cameras to document populations of small mammals, such as squirrels, rabbits, foxes and opossums, said Green, also a co-author of the report.
"It's such a unique opportunity for us," he said, "to see a before and after in the ecosystem when a major new predator comes in."
Tips from the Department of Environmental Conservation
Coyotes usually avoid people, but problems can arise when people or their companion animals come across coyotes, now setting up dens and awaiting the arrival of offspring, says the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Overall tips to minimize contact and conflict:
-- Don't make nice and feed coyotes, even unintentionally with the availability of garbage, compost and even birdseed, which attracts an even better meal of birds and rodents.
-- Cats and small dogs are especially vulnerable to being perceived as meals, so it's best not to let them run free, especially at dusk or at night.
-- Be aware that, especially during pup-rearing times, coyotes are liable to go after small dogs even when owners are present, such as when taking them for walks.
-- Coyotes are secretive, so removing brush and tall grass from yards means fewer hiding places.
-- Keep an eye out for coyotes who seem to have lost their natural fear of people, behaving boldly or repeatedly being seen close to homes. That's the time to call police or the local DEC.
Source: State Department of Environmental Conservation