It’s official: Coyotes are all over New York. There have been sightings of the New York City transplants in neighborhoods as far flung from one another as Middle Village, Queens to the Upper West Side, where police helicopters tracked a lone
wolf coyote’s movements last week in a “three-hour chase involving tranquilizer guns, trucks, patrol cars and helicopters” before finally ceding Riverside Park to the four-legged beast. And while it’s true that coyotes have long called the more heavily wooded parts of the Bronx home, there is clearly something about seeing these wild dogs in other, more heavily trafficked by pedestrians parts of the city that has excited New Yorkers to a degree more commonly reserved for errant wild parrot sighting.
But with all that excitement clearly comes a degree of alarm, as demonstrated by the previously mentioned three-hour police chase. And it is true that in other parts of the country where coyotes are far more common, there exist the occasional, devastating dog snatching. Plus, there have been recent incidents in suburban New Jersey during which coyotes have attacked people and property, and were later found to be positive for rabies. And so for those of us (me!) who have a pathological fear of rabies (no, really… if untreated it has a 100% death rate and leaves the victims frothing at the mouth and compulsively masturbating), maybe it should be a little disturbing that there are suddenly so many coyotes roaming around previously coyote-free areas? Maybe we all need to start looking over our shoulders a little bit more while running through Prospect Park, half-heartedly training for a half-marathon that we’re already partially resigned to walking during, if only for a little while?
I mean, maybe. But also, even if you are the kind of person who lives in New York City precisely because of how removed it is from nature, the kind of person who feels a greater sense of awe when looking at the Gothic spires of the Woolworth building than at Monument Arch and so don’t welcome any sort of intrusion in this man-made paradise (even our parks are manicured and constructed to the point where little remains as recognizably “natural”), even then, you should still welcome these coyotes. Why? Because as Sarah Grimké Aucoin, director of the Urban Park Rangers, recently told the New York Times, coyotes will for the most part leave humans alone (unless we start feeding them, which, don’t do that!), but you know what coyotes won’t leave alone? Rats! And as other wildlife officials told the Times, “They are occupying a niche not held by any other predator, and they perform services like controlling rodent populations.”
So, basically, the introduction of coyotes into our urban jungle could lead to a sharp decrease in the rat population in city parks. Which, if you’ve ever seen—as I did the other day—a couple of rats frolicking through the underbrush in Prospect Park, chasing each other around merrily in the middle of the day like they own the place, then you will get over any unease about a coyote population boom. And you will happily heed the advice of a park official who told the Times: “You’re lucky. Enjoy how special it is.” Now, let us all welcome our coyote overlords, and hope that their arrival heralds the beginning of a new era of New York City wildlife. I don’t know about you, but my fingers are crossed for a return of sheep to our parks, where they can roam free, munching on grass and being adorable. Until, you know, the coyotes get them. Maybe I’ll need to rethink this. Oh, well, for now anyway, I’ll just be happy to know that the coyotes will have their work cut out for them, hunting all those rats. Good luck, coyotes—you’ve got your work cut out for you.
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