11/21/15 Coyotes, N.C.’s newest predator, make themselves at home in Alamance County

Coyotes, N.C.’s newest predator, make themselves at home in Alamance County
By Michael D. Abernethy, The Times-News 11/21/15  
Reprinted with permission.

A coyote wanders around at night behind the football field at Graham Middle School.  
Submitted photo

A coyote wanders around at night behind the football field at Graham Middle School.
 

   GRAHAM — Last winter, Graham Middle School students in Dayson Pasion’s STEM class set the camera traps and waited for the animals to come.

   The motion-triggered cameras were set at knee-height near the campus to capture images of native wildlife. The photos generated were to be shared with scientists in the eMammal project at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, N.C. State University and the Smithsonian Institution, cataloging wildlife populations.    The cameras logged possums, grey and red foxes, raccoons, and stray cats poking around in the woods behind the school’s football field. The animal students expected to see most — white-tailed deer — were relatively scarce.

   Then one day, the camera snapped a coyote sniffing through the underbrush. That explained the lack of deer — and made some students uneasy about their cross-campus jaunts.

   “They were very surprised there was a coyote on campus. Some of them didn’t want to go to P.E. the next day,” Pasion said, laughing.

   That fear was unnecessary: The coyote is a cousin to the larger wolf, but it’s rarely aggressive toward humans.

   Over several decades the coyote has relocated to the eastern United States and has made its home in all 100 North Carolina counties. Like possums, raccoons and foxes before them, coyotes are here to stay as a regular part of N.C. wildlife.

   As such, coyote sightings in residential areas of Alamance County are likely increasing. In September and October, Alamance County Animal Control has gotten four calls about what’s believed to be the same coyote scavenging through a Graham neighborhood.

   One Times-News reporter lives in a central Burlington neighborhood frequented by at least one coyote. And a reader wrote to the Times-News this month explaining how often she hears their howls in southern Alamance County.

   Law enforcement and animal control agencies haven’t received increased nuisance calls about the animals, but said coyotes are regularly seen and heard.

   AS THE COYOTE population has risen here, so has its status as a dominant predator.

   “If you love your cat, bring them inside; at least at night,” said Jason Allen, district biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “Coyotes will hunt cats.”

   In fact, coyotes will hunt most mammals: rabbits, foxes, raccoons, possums, small dogs, and — yes — deer.

   A study of coyotes in areas near Fort Bragg showed that the canines hunt and live in an average 33-square-miles annually. They’ll travel hundreds of miles to find new territory. The study, released earlier this year by NCSU professors, also showed that coyotes are major predators of deer. Half of all fawns born in that area were killed by coyotes.

   Jason Allen said that study can’t be applied to coyote and deer populations here because the terrain and habitat at Fort Bragg isn’t typical of natural habitats for either animal. Coyotes prey on deer, but they’re just as likely to go after your trash or stray cats, Allen said.

   That means urban areas and neighborhoods look like Golden Corrals to hungry coyotes.

   So, when the Graham Middle camera trap flashed on wandering coyotes several times last winter, Pasion understood why.

   “I wasn’t really surprised to see one inside Graham city limits. I knew they were moving more into urban areas where they’ve found new sources of food that are easy to get, whether that’s garbage or cats,” Pasion said. “But my students were able to connect seeing that coyote to the lack of deer sightings. It was cool for me to see them make that connection.”

What to know about coyotes
  • Coyotes are about 3 feet long, nose to tail: smaller than wolves, slightly larger than foxes.
  • Their fur color ranges from buff, brown and gray to black.
  • They usually weigh 20 to 40 pounds.
  • Coyotes are rarely aggressive toward people.
  • They aren’t widely known to carry rabies.
  • Coyotes may pose a predatory threat to pets.
  • Coyotes are active in all 100 N.C. counties.
  • They originated in the American West and Midwest.
  • They spread east as other predator populations dwindled and habitats changed.

CONTROLLING COYOTES

  • Secure garbage to reduce scavenging.
  • Don’t feed or try to pet coyotes.
  • Keep pets inside or in a fenced area. Coyote-proof fencing is available.
  • Remove food after outdoor pets are finished eating. Extra food attracts wildlife.
  • Don’t be intimidated by coyotes. Throw a small object or yell at them to frighten them away if you see one. Coyotes avoid areas where they don’t feel safe.
  • Close off crawlpaces and sheds where they might seek shelter.

Source: N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission