Friday, June 21, 2019

Coyotes aren't coming. They're here. 

Think of coyotes, and wide open plains in Montana and Wyoming come to mind. Think again. Coyotes are right here, in Glen Allen, in Hanover, and even in the City of Richmond and across the river in Chesterfield. 

"Coyotes are in every city of Virginia," is what Reynolds Assistant Dean/ Professor Dr. Richard Groover was told by state game wardens. And Groover got to thinking about coyotes differently too. "As a biological scientist I like to do research, so I posed the question: how many coyotes are actually in Richmond, particularly in Hanover."

So off Professor Groover is going this summer on a self-directed, self-funded research project that has attracted the attention and the help of students from VCU, Liberty University, and GMU. One of Reynolds adult students, Ben Zimmerman, has become Research Assistant on the project. Zimmerman worked as a Well Digger out west before moving to Richmond and fulfilling his dream of getting a college education. Zimmerman knows all about being outdoors in all kinds of weather, day and night, and he is all in on the research.

How did we end up with so many coyotes? "Coyotes are one of the most adaptable predators in the US," says Groover, "with the elimination of coyote predators beginning in the 1800s the population grew and spread. My early guess is that we have as many as 500 in the surrounding area, but this study should give us a statistical number rather than a guess. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries estimates we have 50,000 in the entire state." That's a lot of coyotes.

Do they attack, should we be cautious? "Coyotes are an evasive species. They'd rather run from you," Groover says. "However, recently a coyote attacked a woman and her five-year old son in New Jersey. This is unusual behavior and I suspect they will find that the coyote was rabid. They do love cats and small domestic dogs and will go after them, so it's best to not let pets roam unattended." Coyotes travel in packs so are more visible than a lone fox. But, don't try to outrun these animals, they are the fasted mammal in the US, travelling at a speed of 43 mph, and are known to cover around five miles in a night. 

Groover's research has two phases. Phase 1 involves the use of motion-detecting game cameras focused on a post with bait. Everything in the outdoors loved his bait, except the coyotes, so he upped the quality of his lure and is gathering data. He's moving into Phase 2 now which involves a game "noise" device designed to lure the animals into a certain location. Groover and his crew will be waiting nearby with night vision equipment to watch the coyotes and count them. All this is done at night when the coyotes are roaming, and the rest of us are sleeping.

Look for a follow up to this story. Dr. Groover plans to publish his findings, and certainly any of us with pets are curious just how many coyotes are among us.