Coyotes are common in Central Virginia
Back before we were the biggest, baddest predator on the planet, humans, or at least early human ancestors, were quite a tasty prey species. That’s what the most recent archeological evidence from Kenya suggests, and it goes a long way in explaining modern humans’ reaction to predators like the coyote.
Like wolves, coyotes get our hackles up in a deep, evolutionary kind of way. They’re the unknown monster lurking just outside the campfire light. “They’re just about as evil as you want to see,” said one friend, who has game camera pictures of coyotes on his 150 acres in western Chesterfield.
Those pictures were taken three years ago. I mentioned that hunter and Chesterfield resident, Mike Carroll, in a column I wrote on coyotes on Jan. 20, 2008. the title was “Expect invasion of coyotes.”
This Monday, the Times-Dispatch featured a front-page story about a woman who found a coyote prowling around her backyard in Chesterfield’s Stonehenge subdivision. She seemed surprised by the development.
In one sense — the evolutionary one — I can’t blame her. She has snack-sized children and dogs. the thought of a toothy predator lurking in the shadows of suburban bliss isn’t comforting. But none of us should be surprised.
When I called Bob Duncan, head of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, to talk about the story, which generated more than 100 online comments in less than a day, he shared a number of interesting coyote tales.
Duncan was deer hunting on a farm during the Christmas holiday this year, he said. “I was about to come off a stand. the coyotes started howling, and it was just a chorus of them. I mean, they were going. … It reminded me of being out in Nebraska last spring hunting, and the coyotes sounded just as plentiful here as there.”
Where did Duncan hear such a thing? Eastern Henrico County.
He also dispatched a coyote, considered a nuisance species in Virginia, while deer hunting not long ago near the West Creek Business Park in eastern Goochland County.
I’d say the barbarians are at the gates, except they’ve long been inside the castle keep.
“A lot of people may have them in their area and never see them and never know they’re there,” Duncan said. Often, “people see something lying dead on the side of the road, and they’ll think it’s a dog. more often than not I find it’s a coyote.”
Coyotes have been seen intermittently in my Richmond neighborhood, which isn’t much more than two miles, as the crow flies, from downtown.
Here’s another fun fact about coyotes that Mike Fies, the DGIF’s furbearer biologist, shared with me for that column three years ago.
“They say if you see one coyote, there are generally quite a few more. They’re very secretive, but they do adapt well to humans.”
Since finding those original game camera images, Carroll told me this week, coyotes have begun making more regular appearances on his property. Last year, another camera captured a coyote taking down a deer fawn. Carroll speculated that the December snow may have forced the coyote in Stonehenge to range farther for food and show its face during the day, which it normally wouldn’t do.
Whatever the reason, it’s time we got a few things straight about coyotes: 1) They aren’t native to Virginia, but they sure like it here. Even more so than the open West, coyotes in the more densely populated East live in a “target-rich environment,” as Duncan called it. There’s plenty of food here, from rodents to deer to small dogs to carrion, and a coyote will eat nearly anything. 2) There’s no need to live in fear of coyotes, but we should respect what they’re capable of. to wit, this past June, a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old in Rye, N.Y., a suburb of new York City, were seriously injured in separate coyote attacks. Adults, however, rarely find themselves the subject of coyote attacks.
None of this is meant to alarm, simply to edify. whether we live in the city, the suburbs or the country, we share our space with wildlife. for my money, that’s one of the great things about Central Virginia. But just as the whitetail deer, grey fox and raccoon aren’t going anywhere, neither is the coyote.
The light from the campfire of modern life casts itself far into the shadows, but we still should be surprised by what emerges beyond it.
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