“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”
Those creatures had Dorothy worried on the yellow brick road in "The Wizard of Oz" - and now you may need to worry about seeing them and other large carnivores in your backyard, an Ohio State University researcher says.
OK, there shouldn’t be any tigers - they aren’t found in the wild in North America - but lions (mountain), bears, wolves and coyotes are finding urban areas to be just right for a comfortable existence, says Stan Gehrt, an associate professor of environment and natural resources.
Gehrt says coyotes are leading the urban invasion by formerly rural carnivores.
“The coyote is the test case for other animals. Raccoons, skunks, foxes – they’ve already been able to penetrate the urban landscape pretty well. The coyote is the most recent and largest,” Gehrt said in a university press release.
One pack of coyotes has established a territory and is thriving about five miles from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, the third busiest airport in the country, according to Budget Travel.
“That’s an indication that they don’t have to go far to find food and water. They’re finding everything they need right there, in the suburbs of Chicago,” Gehrt said.
And he said the urban environments may be even better than rural ones for the coyotes, with pups surviving in urban areas at five times the rate they do in rural settings.
“They’re so adaptable and so opportunistic,” Gehrt said. “In adjusting to urban life, they may change dietary items and habitat use, and become nocturnal, whereas in the country they’re active day and night. But with other things, they don’t change at all. Here, they’re able to maintain their social structure, territorialism, packs and mating system, even in the face of all these challenges of trying to live among 9 million people.”
In an earlier release, Gehrt said one trait that may be helping coyotes thrive in urban areas is their monogamy, which means dads are around to help raise the kids.
“If the female were to try to raise those large litters by herself, she wouldn’t be able to do it. But the male spends just as much time helping to raise those pups as the female does,” he said.
The urban coyotes pose little danger to humans, Gert said, and can be easily scared off by yelling at them or throwing a rock at them.
“You’re doing them a favor. They show a healthy respect and fear of people and that’s the way it should be,” he said.
They also eat rodents and even bugs which can pose dangers to human health, he said. Of course, they may also eat your dog or cat.
The abundance of carnivore food may also bring larger carnivores into urban settings.
Gehrt said a mountain lion was recently killed in the Wrigleyville area of Chicago.
Sightings of mountain lions and bears in suburban areas are increasingly common. And they can pose a bigger danger to humans.
“They are going to be an even bigger challenge,” Gehrt said.
Gehrt’s coyote research has been going on for 12 years. His team has tracked about 680 coyotes by placing radio collars on them.
Gehrt spoke at the EcoSummit 2102 in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday.