PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The Eastern coyote is becoming a neighbor to many Rhode Islanders, as the species has adapted well to living in urban areas where food and shelter are abundant and competition scarce.
State wildlife officials report the animal is found in every community in the state except Block Island. They don't have an accurate count, but generally estimate there are three to five per square mile in the Ocean State.
Scientists believe the Eastern coyote first wandered into Rhode Island in the early 1960s, lured by a readily available food source and no major predators. University of Rhode Island mammalogist Tom Husband said the animal either emigrated from Canada after breeding with wolves, or they were introduced to the state by the U.S. Navy after being kept on some ships as mascots.
Coyotes are shy, nocturnal animals, and pose little threat to humans. Officials say the coyotes are expected to get more active in about a month, as mating season begins. Husband told The Providence Journal that coyotes have killed one person in the United States -- a small child.
"(The danger of an attack) is pretty remote," Husband said. "You stand a hundred times greater chance of getting hit by lightning."
Municipal animal control officers tell residents the best ways to keep coyotes away is to keep trash cans sealed, and keep pets indoors at night. They say coyotes are hard to catch.
"Garbage is a big draw," said Laurie Gibson, supervising wildlife biologist for the state Department of Environmental Management. "People don't understand that the number of small animals in urban areas exceeds that in the woods. We supply food and shelter and things we don't consider, and because there are less predators in the neighborhoods, they don't want to leave."
Some scientists want to study coyotes' habits. One, Numi Mitchell, a biologist with the Conservation Agency in Jamestown, plans to put satellite collars on coyotes to track them.
"We want to find out how far they are moving and what habitats they are using, and how many of them there are," she said. "We have a lot of experience trapping animals, so it is not intimidating to us, but they are tricky."
Source: AP - AP Wire Service