Here in Portland, hiring a herd of goats to trim some weeds in your yard makes headlines. So can you imagine what would happen if the city began employing, say, a coyote or two to keep our rat population in check?
Sound a bit far-fetched? Think again. Check out what’s happening a couple of time zones away in Chicago. This morning, NPR reported that the Windy City is currently allowing as many as sixty coyotes to “patrol” its neighborhoods, streets, and parks. Their job? Well, to just be themselves—and hunt. These city employees, of sorts, “earn their keep” by chomping up small rodents like rats and voles.
The animals don’t exactly punch a clock. But they are closely monitored with radio collars as part of the Cook County Coyote Project, an undertaking that’s billed as the world’s largest urban coyote study. According to the study organizers, the project allows a “peek into the hidden lives of urban coyotes.” And the animals are given an amazing amount of leeway. (In 2007, for example a wayward coyote that took refuge in a local Quizno’s refrigerator was simply released back into the relative wild of the urban jungle.)
What about the danger this may pose to neighborhood cats, dogs, and—oh, yeah—Little Johnny playing outside? Despite fears of predation on our loved ones, both human and four-legged, these Chicago coyotes are extremely reclusive, usually appearing only after a dark and sticking mainly to green spaces. (An aerial map that tracks two of the animal’s movement’s brings home the point). However, the study does acknowledge that since 1990, the number of attacks on pets in the Chicago metropolitan area has increased from 0-2 attacks per year to 6-14 reported attacks per year.
Coyote sightings are nothing new in Portland, of course. In fact, just over a week ago, KGW ran a story about coyote lurking about in Northeast Portland’s Alameda neighborhood.
The coyote’s brazen behavior led to speculation that people had been leaving food out for the animal, habituating it to the presence of humans. And who can forget in 2008, when, after a rash of coyote sightings, the Sherwood police department effectively declared an open season on Canis latrans, with officers told to take aim with their assault rifles and to shoot-to-kill? And while I am at, who can forget Sleater-Kinney’s, Light Rail Coyote, a grungy dirge in tribute to a coyote found on the MAX? But I digress.
Any hysteria seems a bit needless, though. According to the Audubon Society, the only documented coyote attack on a human in Oregon came when a man cornered one and attempted to beat it to death with a two-by-four.
Am I saying that coyotes should be allowed to openly harass a neighborhood? Absolutely not. And should we radio collar as many of them as possible and expect the species to become a new breed of Orkin men for the Rose City? I’m not sure either.
In any case, whether they sport radio collars or not, these animals are already here, living among us, going about business usual, with most of us none the wiser. And to keep it that way, it’s worth pointing out that are steps that all of us can take to minimize any risks, however small, associated with coyotes. Simple acts, such as keeping pets on leashes and in yards, keeping lids on the garbage can, and not leaving food out for them, go a long away to reducing conflicts.
Whether or not we enlist them as exterminators, it seems we urbanites need to learn to live alongside these crafty, wild-in-the-city residents.