For immediate release

Second coyote in history makes it to Central Park

WildMetro supports the relocation efforts by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation; says situation is representative of the challenges of protecting nature urbanizing regions.

By Katherine Mertes, David Burg, and Stefan Ekernas

NEW YORK, March 22 – WildMetro supports the actions of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation in removing “Hal” the coyote from Central Park. “Central Park is not a safe or appropriate place for coyotes,” said Katherine Mertes, WildMetro Research Coordinator. The Park’s isolation from other natural areas, the presence of heavy road traffic, and the high level of human use make it a dangerous and inhospitable setting for a large predator. That coyotes are able to survive in the unique conditions created by urban development is testimony to the persistence and resilience of nature. However, coyotes inhabiting urbanized areas in the Northeast have repeatedly contracted diseases, keeping urban populations at low levels and raising questions about human health risks. Considering these concerns, the NYC Parks Department’s actions were both responsible and practical.

Though Central Park may not be a suitable place for coyotes, the species seems to be persisting in the Bronx and nearby suburban areas. Hal’s appearance is an opportunity to recognize New York City’s potential to support wildlife, and also to discuss the means – open space protection and natural area management – necessary to ensure that city natural areas will continue to attract and harbor wild species. WildMetro hopes that the presence, however brief, of animals like Hal in central Manhattan will encourage all New Yorkers to value the wonderful wildlife that abounds in New York City.

Hal is probably a “teenage” coyote, in the stage of life when males leave their parents’ or pack’s home range and travel – sometimes incredibly long distances – in search of a territory to call their own. It is encouraging that a coyote seemed to regard Central Park as suitable habitat for his new home.

Even though Hal seems to be a particularly adventurous coyote, there are no reports of any aggressive interactions between him and park-goers. While it is prudent to view coyotes as potentially dangerous animals, coyotes approach people very infrequently, usually only after they have been repeatedly fed by humans.

Numerous studies of coyotes in the Northeast have discussed the potential repercussions of a top predator returning to the region. WildMetro researchers have found atypically high densities of small mammal species (like mice and voles) in areas in and around New York City. At extremely high densities, small mammal species can suppress plant regeneration, and they can be reservoirs for numerous diseases that can be passed from animals to humans. With the return of small mammal predators, their large numbers may be reduced, potentially decreasing the risk of disease exposure and reducing pressure on plant communities.

Coyotes were not reported from New York state until 1925, when human extirpation of the gray wolf and human-caused changes in the landscape allowed the species to expand eastward. It was not until the 1990’s, however, that coyotes migrated into New York City. Humans continue to develop and change the landscape in myriad ways, making it likely that wildlife events like today’s will only become more frequent. More and more, traditional wilderness species – like Pale Male the red-tailed hawk, Otis (the coyote captured in Central Park in 1999), and Hal – will live in and access the city. With reasonable urban conservation policies like those WildMetro advocates, New Yorkers will find that living with wildlife is not only possible, but ultimately rewarding.
WildMetro is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to protecting nature in metropolitan regions. Though urban development can have many negative consequences for nature, a surprising number of plant and animal species remain in urban areas. WildMetro works to research the urban ecology of New York and other cities, educate children and adults about the importance of urban wildlife and urban natural areas, and advocate for a sensible balance of development and nature protection in urban regions worldwide.