Special Segment: Urban Coyotes

February 7, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Our coyotes are being closely watched.

"It turns out that city life is good for coyotes," Dr. Stan Gehrt told ABC7. "They are surviving quite well on natural foods in the city. Not on our garbage and not on our pets."

Dr. Gehrt is a research biologist who heads up the Cook County Coyote Project. For more than ten years he and his colleagues have been tracking, trapping and studying coyotes.

When a coyote is trapped they are ear tagged and fit with a radio collar. Researchers are then able to track them to determine where and how the animals live. They've managed to catch 498 coyotes.

"So he's a good healthy, prime adult male heading into the breeding season," said Dr. Gehrt about the 498th coyote.

The breeding season is a window of five or six days right around Valentine's Day. And when coyotes fall in love it is forever.

"Coyotes don't divorce ever. In ten years we've never had an alpha pair voluntarily break up ever," said Dr. Gehrt.

We've all heard that geese and some other animals also mate for life.

"There's lots of mammals and birds that are classified as monogamous but when you test them genetically there's lots of cheating going on. With coyotes, so far, we've not found any cheating going on at all," said Dr. Gehrt.

Some famous sightings in Chicago have made us all aware there are plenty of coyotes around. The one floating on the ice that was eventually rescued. The one running down State Street. The one that decided to cool off in a sandwich shop cooler on a hot summer day. But how many are there?

"We believe there are at least 2,000 coyotes living in Cook County," said Dr. Gehrt.

What's less clear is how many are in the city of Chicago but we know of some.

"We've radiotracked two coyotes in the city right near Navy Pier and in the Loop. That is their territory. Those are the most urban coyotes in North America," said Dr. Gehrt.

An infrared night video taken by the Coyote Project capture two people strolling down a Chicago street who apparently had no idea that right ahead of them is a coyote living comfortable amidst millions of people.

Another video shows a couple walking in a Chicago park one night last fall as a coyote passes by a coyote.

Is it possible that a coyote would wait for a biker to pass and the light to turn green before boldly loping through the intersection as one video shows?

And, remember, where there's one coyote, there's almost always a pack -- a family.

"They're an amazing paradox because you almost never see them together in a group. They're almost always by themselves. They hunt by themselves and yet they maintain this family group," said Dr. Gehrt.

The fact that we see them so rarely is testimony to how well urban coyotes have adapted to living in the city yet staying hidden.

"If they're not successful at moving away and hiding, they eventually get removed. So their success is an indication of how well they are able to stay hidden and keep a healthy respect and fear for people," said Dr. Gehrt.

As for coyote #498? The young alpha male, boss of a pack, was driven back out to the country where the door to his cage was opened and we tried to prod him with a stick. Nothing. So we tried to tip the cage...nothing.

So to the amusement of the research team, Dr. Gerht calmly reached into the cage, soothed the coyote, took him by the nape of the neck and pulled him out. Then in the blink of an eye, he did what coyotes do best: he disappeared.

Some coyote rules: Don't feed them. That means don't leave food for your pet outside unless you want your pet to meet a coyote. And, don't fear them. If you see one, walk away. They would prefer to be alone.


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