Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cemetery Coyote

Over a week ago, I received an email from a concerned citizen--the creator of the above Facebook page--about a coyote living in a local cemetery. While it is not unusual for coyotes to live in cities, I've taken a stance on this issue because I truly believe that the reaction is extreme and unwarranted.
The cemetery is private property--so as a citizen of the City of Erie I guess we don't have a say in the outcome of this animal's life. Because a few people have complained about the coyote living there, the Cemetery Manager has decided that the appropriate reaction is to hire an animal control professional. The problem is--relocation is not part of the plan. In fact I don't believe relocation is even legal. This coyote, if trapped, will be killed.
Ben and I visited the cemetery yesterday to have a look for ourselves. Not because we "had to see it," but rather because I'm doing a documentary film on coyotes, have been working with them in varying capacities over the past eleven years; and quite frankly I wanted to assess the situation myself. From what others had posted on the Facebook site: Save the Coyote, it almost sounded as if this animal had become habituated--no longer afraid of people. But luckily this was not the case. Our first look was of this animal running from groundskeepers mowing the lawn. Much too quick to even get a millisecond on film, or even to snap a photo. We tried again, walking quietly around the cemetery grounds--trying to be respectful of those there to tend to their loved-ones graves. Ben and I were very uncomfortable--not because of the coyote but because we were there for our own reasons.
Ben sees the coyote again--running in the opposite direction. This animal is clearly being bounced around by all the human activity in the cemetery. But there are plenty of places to hide: behind gravestones and under Rhododendron. Fox squirrels are everywhere: so there's no lack of food either.
The media has attracted a lot of attention to this animal--which would be a good thing if people realized that the traps are there to kill this coyote. But I don't think this point has been made in the news. Because there has been so much hoopla, I've written to the Erie Cemetery Manager and the Erie Times News to try and make a plea for this coyotes life:
"Dear Erie Times News,
It is disappointing to me to learn that a "solution" to finding a coyote living in the Erie Cemetery is to trap and kill it. This animal is not hurting anyone by being there--on the contrary it has eaten mice and other small mammals that are found there in abundance. Coyotes are naturally curious about people and will often stand and watch before running away. Seeing a coyote during the day is not cause for alarm, particularly this time of year. Where coyotes are not hunted (such as in cities), they are active more during the day. Coyotes are also raising puppies this time of year--so they have much more hunting to do to find food to feed their young. Both male and female coyotes help raise puppies, and both parents are critical to the litters success.
I find both the public's and the Erie Cemetery's reaction both ignorant and disappointing. We can and do live beside these creatures every day--most of us just don't know it. These are not evil creatures who are out to get you. Life should not be as disposable as killing something to get rid of it. Coyotes are amazing creatures with fascinating natural history and a complex Native American mythology. Coyotes are here to stay: we might as well get used to living with them. The more we hunt them, the more puppies they produce: "compensatory reproduction."
I encourage anyone who fears or does not understand these animals to attend one of my public lectures on coyotes. I have been researching them for over 11 years now: both at Presque Isle State Park and in Yellowstone National Park. I have given over 40 public lectures about them, and will continue to educate everyone I meet about these much maligned creatures."

"Dear Erie Cemetary Manager,
A concerned citizen from the Erie Area brought to my attention that a coyote in the Erie Cemetary has been the cause of some complaints. I am directly involved with the coyote research taking place at Presque Isle State Park, and have been involved in coyote research to varying degrees over the past ten years. I would like to offer a few alternative solutions put together by myself and fellow coyote researcher:
1. Post "do not feed wildlife" signs -- hand feeding coyotes is the only documented cause of attack. Coyotes are naturally curious about people, and will often stand and look at passersby before running away.
2. Removal of the current inhabitant will only cause another coyote to move in. Coyotes are ubiquitous. They are found in major cities across the US, and have adapted to living alongside people. They're in downtown LA, Chicago and New York. Erie is not unique.
3. Seeing coyotes during the day is NOT cause for alarm. Coyotes are active any time of the day--espically in places where they are not hunted (such as in cities). They are active when their prey is active, and will change their habits accordingly.
4. Public education. I would be happy to hold a public lecture about coyotes. I have completed 3 films on them, and have worked with them in the field for ten years (and have given over 40 public lectures). We are currently in production for a fourth film that will show at the Tom Ridge Center. The biology graduate student involved with the current research project is also open to giving public lectures.
5. Using deterrants.Try shooting the coyote with paintball, rocksalt or pellet gun. This will give the coyote a clear message that people are not friendly and he/she will quickly learn to stay away from humans.
Please feel free to write back to me if you have further questions. Thank you for taking the time to read my email.

Please call the Erie Cemetery Manager and request that the coyote traps be removed, and for them to leave the animal alone. His name is Clark and he can be reached at: 

814-459-2463. Please be respectful, and express your concern in a polite manner. You can also email the Erie Cemetery Association at: