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How Southern Coyotes Coexist With Humans

Feb 24, 2015 01:10 PM EST

(Photo : John Mosesso, USGS)

While recovering wolf populations have long been driving the debate between conservationists and livestock owners, what about coyotes? The states of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are helping researchers conduct surveys in order to study southern coyotes and how they manage to coexist with humans.

Coyotes are not quite as controversial as gray wolves in the United States, but there is still some concern given that these predators live side by side with us in urban areas, increasing the chances of human conflict.

So to put people's minds at ease, Berry College Associate Professor Chris Mowry and his students have launched the Atlanta Coyote Project to find out territory sizes, movement and eating patterns of coyotes. The project's Facebook page contains an online survey to better help educate the public about the animals.

Meanwhile, Mike Chamberlain, a professor of wildlife ecology and management at the University of Georgia, is conducting a similar study using DNA samples to better understand the behavior of coyotes.

Over the years, coyotes (Canis latrans) have had to adapt to the changing American landscape. When once they lived primarily in open prairies and deserts, now they are found all over North America in forests, mountains, and even cities in search of food. According to National Geographic, coyote populations have rapidly increased over recent decades and are likely at an all-time high.

(Photo : Pixabay)

Already, their numbers are having ecological ramifications. In some areas, coyotes are devastating fawns and putting the future of white-tailed deer at risk. Also, these ravenous animals dig up and devour sea turtle eggs, further imperiling species that are already endangered.

Like with wolves, farmers and landowners are quick on the trigger, wanting to take matters into their own hands and get rid of these carnivorous pests - they sometimes kill lambs, calves and even pets. However, Mowry notes that this is not the answer. Coyotes, believe it or not, should just be left to their own devices.

"Removing/killing coyotes simply opens up territory for others to move in and occupy," he explained to Northwest Georgia News. "When left alone, coyotes will control their own numbers based on available resources (primarily food). Controlling and limiting those resources is the best management strategy."

Mowry adds that another reason for his Atlanta Coyote Project is to develop data that is specific to the Southeast.

"What we know about coyotes across their historic range (west of the Mississippi) does not necessarily apply to our region," he said.

For the next two years, professional wildlife trappers will be trapping and placing GPS collars on coyotes in several counties in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama, and then releasing them back into the wild. In addition, researchers will study DNA samples from each of the collared coyotes to determine their colonization routes in the Southeast.

"I think there's a growing thirst for knowledge about these animals," Chamberlain concluded. "The bottom line is, we're trying to figure out how they're getting here."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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