Coexisting with Coyotes

This is the twelfth of 16 student posts, guest-authored by Stanley Corbin.

Disease in wildlife is an important concern to the health and safety of humans and domestic animals. The expanding growth of our nation and resultant land use changes with urbanization has resulted in a shrinking habitat and fragmentation for all animals, including humans. The effects of ecological disruption are universally recognized and adversely effects wildlife through multiple mechanisms.

Hand it to the coyote (Canis latrans) for its ability to exist with humans. The resilience of this animal can be attributed to its natural instincts, remarkable intelligence and survivability. Opportunistic is another word that can be used to define them. Once an animal roaming the mid-west prairies, their territory has expanded throughout the North American continent and beyond. Coyotes demonstrate their wily nature by meeting the challenges of the American landscape.  

Progression of coyote range expansion throughout North America and Mexico. (7) Click to enlarge. 

Precise population estimates of coyotes in the United States are not available and unclear at best. However, to put it in perspective, the California Department of Fish and Game estimates a population range of  250,000  to 750,000 animals.(1)  The greater metropolitan area of Chicago estimates home to between 200-2000 coyotes. (3) The coyote population in New York during the summer is approximately 20,000-30,000. (2)  In March 2010, a lone coyote led a police chase through lower Manhattan, deep in New York City.

Coyotes can thrive in suburban settings and even some urban ones creating a concern for public health. A study by wildlife ecologists at Ohio State University yielded some surprising findings in this regard. Researchers studied coyote populations in Chicago over a seven-year period (2000–2007), proposing that coyotes have adapted well to living in densely populated urban environments while avoiding contact with humans. They found, among other things, that urban coyotes tend to live longer than their rural counterparts. (3)

As with most all wild animals, the coyote population represents a reservoir for diseases. Zoonotic (animal to human) diseases in particular are on the rise, comprising 75% of emerging infectious diseases. Viruses, bacteria, fungi, internal and external parasites, and other pestilence are only the headings for what’s out there.

Fortunately, the rabies virus is rather uncommon in coyotes as reported. The only exception was the 1974-1998 rabies epizootic (epidemic in animals) in south Texas. The world’s largest wildlife oral rabies vaccine (ORV) drop, 11.6 million doses covering over 189.6 square miles, was performed beginning in 1995 and led to the total elimination of the domestic dog-coyote (DDC) variant by 2006. (4) A study performed by the USDA, APHIS, Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center concluded; “In Texas, the use of the ORV stopped the northward spread and led to the progressive elimination of the DDC variant of rabies in coyotes”. (5) This campaign was a win for our tax dollars as well. The economic evaluation study yielded “total estimated benefits of the program approximately ranged from $89 million to $346 million, with total program costs of $26,358,221 for the study period”. This represents benefit-cost ratios that ranged from 3.38 to 13.12. (5)

Coyote rabies surveillance reported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for 2010 declared 10 confirmed cases. None of these cases were DDC variant, which remains non-detected from the populations. The raccoon variant and skunk variant represented 8 (AL, GA, NC, NJ, NY, NYC) and 2 (CA, CO) cases respectively. (6)These coyote rabies cases were diagnosed from New York City (1) on the east coast to California (1) in the west, confirming the widespread distribution of this terrestrial carnivore. An interesting fact that comes from this data is that the coyote is not a player in the zoonotic rabies front. From a public health concern, a human has a significantly greater chance of contracting the disease from the backyard domestic cat.

Canine Distemper Virus is an enzootic disease (prevalent in an animal population) in the coyote. The neurological form is rightfully confused with a rabies infection as the two appear similar clinically. Humans are not susceptible to the disease, however it is highly contagious to dogs. Greater Yellowstone Park has a dynamic management study to assist with the surveillance of the disease enzootic in the parks coyote population.

The parasitic disease Sarcoptic mange is what gives the animal the “mangy” look. Caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabei, the disease in humans is called Scabies. Severely affected coyotes are unsightly and are perceived as threatening by their appearance. The compromised condition may explain the increased frequency of nesting and scavenging in suburban areas, especially in daylight hours. Coyotes with extensive mange infections are not considered aggressive as concluded by The Cook County, Illinois, Coyote Project.(7) Human infections from animal sources are short-lived and self-limiting due the highly host species-specific nature of the bug.

A recent hot epidemiological study conducted in Santa Clara County, California, identified coyotes as a wildlife reservoir for a disease caused by Bartonella vinsonii subsp. Berkhoffii .(8) The disease in humans is characterized by endocarditis, an inflammation of the interior lining of the heart. The study was prompted by the coyote bite of a child who developed symptoms compatible with Bartonella infection. Among 109 coyotes sampled, 31 animals (28%) were found to be bacteremic and 83 animals (76%) had Bartonella vinsonii seropositve antibodies. The disease is thought to be transmitted by insect vectors (ticks, biting flies, fleas), however further studies are necessary to elucidate additional modes of transmission to humans.(8) Bartonellosis in domestic cats is commonly called “cat scratch fever”, caused by a different species variant of Bartonella. The role coyotes play in this emerging infectious zoonose and public health concern are yet to be resolved.

Additional diseases exist in the coyote populations warranting public health attention. Anyone concerned with coyote interaction and communicable diseases will need to seek information relative to their geographical location. The ubiquitous nature of this animal and the corresponding diseases posing risks to humans and domestic animals respectively are regionally specific.

Coyotes are here to stay. Most every state (excluding Hawaii) has a control program in effect to manage the public health risks and deprivation to human welfare. The Humane Society of the US has issued techniques to resolve coyote conflict and how to discourage coyotes.  Project Coyote champions innovative solutions to live in peace with the coyote despite differences, especially in terms of human policy. (9) A collaborated and integrated management approach is required to maintain a balance of needs for this specie of animal and humans. Wildlife specialist Jeffery Green summarizes; “regardless of the means used to stop damage, the focus should be on damage prevention and control rather than elimination of coyotes”. (10)

Pet owners need to adapt to coyote presence and take precautionary measures in securing their animal’s health and safety. Routine core vaccinations and other preventative health care are effective in stopping the transmission of nearly all the important diseases from the coyote to a pet animal.

Coyote attacks on humans are rare; the coyote human avoidance factor is responsible for the low incidence. In the cases of human attacks, approximately 30% were reported as humans feeding coyotes. (8) Additionally, greater than 50% of the human attack cases were in California, (8) where coyotes have a longer history of habituation with humans.

A person who sees a coyote should feel lucky since they avoid humans and are mostly invisible.

The most important advice to prevent human exposure is: do NOT feed coyotes and ensure your environment is NOT coyote friendly. Any attempt to domesticate or habituate the coyote will surely be a kiss of death for its existence. Survival of coyotes is dependent on living side by side but not together with humans.

The “tricksters still run wild and provoke all sorts of all-too-human difficulties, pitting the spirit of the wild against the sturdy values of our American farmers and their need to protect livestock. Somehow we need both”. (11)

Our Canadian neighbors at The Royal Canadian Geographical Society  conclude; “the more we cut down habitat and build, the happier the scavenging and opportunistic coyote”. (12)

As they say in Texas, “when the human population fails, cockroaches and coyotes will survive”. (13)

References:

  1. L.A. County Department of Animal Care and Control website. Accessed June 15, 2012. Available at: http://animalcare.lacounty.gov/coyote.asp
  2. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website. Accesses June 15, 2012. Available at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/9359.html
  3. World Science website: Thriving under our noses, stealthily: coyotes.  Accessed June 13, 2012. Available at:  http://www.world-science.net/othernews/060105_coyotefrm.htm
  4. Texas Department of State Health Service website. Accessed June 12, 2012. Available at: http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/idcu/disease/rabies/orvp/statistics/
  5. Stephanie A. Shwiff, PhD; Katy N. Kirkpatrick, BS; Ray T. Sterner, PhD. Economic evaluation of an oral rabies vaccination program for the control of a domestic dog-coyote rabies epizootic: 1995-2006. JAVMA, Vol.233, No.11, Dec.1, 2008. Available at http://www.avma.org/avmacollections/rabies/javma_233_11_1736.pdf
  6. Jesse D. Blanton, MPH; Dustyn Palmer, BA; Jessie Dyer, MSPH; Charles E. Rupprecht, VMD,PhD. Rabies surveillance in the United States during 2010. Vet Med Today: Public Veterinary Medicine. JAVMA, Vol. 239, No. 6, September 15, 2011. Available at: http://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/pdf/10.2460/javma.239.6.773
  7. The Cook County, Illinois, Coyote Project website. Accessed June 13, 2012. Available at: http://urbancoyoteresearch.com/Coyote_Project.htm
  8. Chang CC, Kasten RW, Chomel BB, Simpson DC, Hew CM, Kordick DL, Heller R, Piedmont Y, Breitschwerdt EB. Coyotes (Canis latrans) as the reservoir for a human pathogenic Bartonella sp.: molecular epidemiology of Bartonella vinsonii subsp. Berkhoffii infection in coyotes from central coastal California. J Clin Microbiol. 2000 Nov; 38 (11): 4193-200. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11060089
  9. Project Coyote website. Accessed June 15. 2012. Available at: http://www.projectcoyote.org/programs.html
  10. Jefferey S. Green, Urban Coyotes: Some Summary Thoughts. Proceedings of the 12th Wildlife Damage Management Conference (D.L. Nolte, W.M. Arjo, D.H. Stalman, Eds. 2007
  11. Shake-Spear’s Bible.com website; Coyote: An Instant Classic. Post by Roger Strirtmatter, October 25, 2011. Accessed June 13, 2012. Available at: http://shake-speares-bible.com/2011/10/25/coyote-an-instant-classic/
  12. The Royal Canadian Geographical Society website. Accessed June 13, 2012. Available at: http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/wildlife-nature/?path=english/species/coyote/2
  13. Personal correspondence; James Wright; Tyler Texas. Retired Texas Department of State Health Service official.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike Olson
    June 21, 2012

    Great article! Things have changed in Western Illinois around the Quad Cities. When I was in high school…way, way, way back, I graduated in ’80, I knew a few farmers who claimed coyotes would get their calves once in awhile. But, I never heard or saw a coyote. I left the area in 1988 and came back in 1995. At that time, I began to hear coyotes howling with great frequency. Today, I pretty much hear them every night and at different compass points around the small town I live in…meaning there are more than a few. I would point out, seeing deer used to be a rare occurrence now it is so common that even seeing a herd of 10+ deer is not unusual. Similarly, fox populations have increased as well. In the small town of New Boston a hunter caught a photo of a bobcat on a trap-cam. There have even been DNR confirmed reports of cougars immediately across the Mississippi in eastern Iowa. Suffice to say, as I’ve aged I’m impressed by two things, 1) the number of homes going up in places that used to be farm land or very remote and 2) the increase in wildlife population and variety of local wildlife.

  2. #2 rork
    June 21, 2012

    I also benefited from this article, and want to add my thanks. I’m in SE Michigan in mixed suburban and farm land, and we have had “our” coyotes for about 8 years now. We feel honored. I thought I had noticed a decrease in fox numbers, but that might be false, or for different reasons than more coyotes, however I thought this was the expected result. Ferrel cats are down, as expected. Wish the other hunters (I’m one) would demonize them less. I keep an eye on my Yorkshire Terrorist, Owlbait, in the evening if he goes outside, but I had to do that anyway.

  3. #3 Mike Olson
    June 21, 2012

    Owlbait! Okay, that made me laugh out loud. On a more sentimental note, I own cats, so appreciated the feral cat comment. If there was no open niche they wouldn’t fill it.

  4. #4 Arthur Farkle
    Ojai
    June 22, 2012

    The problem with preventative measures is they aren’t a cure. Good ideas for preventing a coyote problem – guess that’s why they call them preventative – but the opportunity is lost once coyotes are running around during the day attacking your pets on leashes and in your backyard. That’s when the shooting starts. Once the aggressors are gone start your prevention program and the rifles and traps can stay in the garage.

  5. #5 J Dog
    Chicago suburbs
    June 23, 2012

    “and adversely effects wildlife through multiple mechanisms.”

    The Road runner says Beep Beep and also that the last part of your sentence should read “affects wildlife”, not effects wildlife.

    And early mornings we see our coyote run through the park, and longingly look at the REAL pests, the Friggin Canadian Geese. I hate thouse geeses to pieces…