The Ecology of Fear, Part I

“Coyotes are wreaking havoc in one area county…attacking animals and scaring people.”

Ecologists describe “ecology of fear” as prey behavior changing due to the presence of predators (Ripple 2004). For example, the presence of wolves in a certain area may cause the elk not to stay and forage as long as they would if the wolves were absent. In this article (and the ones that follow), we refer to the ecology of fear as predator presence in an area, especially a neighborhood, striking fear in the local residents.

Coyotes have taken up residence in all of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Not only are they surviving, but they are thriving. During our annual camera trap study, in which we put up trail cameras to survey wildlife, we have gotten quite a few pictures of coyotes within city limits. As they increase in density, their range decreases, and they matriculate into urban areas. This increases the likelihood that they will come into contact with humans. Iredell county, and in particular Statesville, has not been able to avoid this conflict. Just look at this news article from 2012. One dog attacked by a “pack” of coyotes is how it describes the event. Look at the following quotes from area home-owners concerning the rising coyote population:

“This problem is getting out of control.”

“It’s very scary.”

“I don’t really want to kill them or anything like that. Let’s just catch them and relocate them where they need to be, not so much in the middle of a city and the public where someone can get hurt.”

These are real fears from real people. How do we address these “nuisance” problems and deal with these fears? The one thing wildlife biologists can say for sure is that these canines are not going away anytime soon. To properly address this issue, we first need to learn all we can about the coyote, Canis latrans. In this series, we will try to bring clarity to several misconceptions about the eastern coyote so that we can all learn to live with them.

In Part II, we will delve into the natural history of coyotes. We will learn how they developed genetically. We will also learn how they came to live in North Carolina. Part III will attempt to clear up misconceptions about coyote behavior and ecology. Finally, part IV will explore recommendations and suggestions on how to live with the predators.







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