Meet the Zoo’s Wild Neighbors By David Gregg and Jo Yellis
More and more, people are seeing coyotes around their
Roger Williams Park Zoo. Roger Williams Park Zoo is a partner
neighborhood, and in their yard. The animals we see in rural
on an important research project investigating these questions
towns, suburbs, or even in the center of Providence, are
by using GPS technology to track coyotes in urban, suburban,
eastern coyotes, descendants of the western coyote with a
and rural spaces around Rhode Island.
small amount of wolf and dog DNA woven in during a period of interbreeding many years ago. Eastern coyotes have been established residents of coastal New England since the 1970’s.
“hot spots,” places with especially heavy coyote traffic. She then sets up specially designed soft-hold traps at these hot
Before European settlers came to America and cleared the
spots. When she catches a coyote, she and a veterinarian
forests, wolves were a top predator in eastern North America.
collect data on the coyote’s age, size, sex, and health and
Over the last century, the forests have come back and along
attach a collar with a GPS tracker and other radio beacons.
with the trees have come deer, turkey, beaver, fisher, and the
They then release the coyote back to the wild. The process
enables Dr. Mitchell to follow the coyote’s activities observing
The questions often asked are: How has the eastern coyote been able to spread so rapidly? How can they live successfully
where he/she sleeps, hunts, and dens; and how he/she interacts with humans and coyotes from neighboring packs.
so close to humans? What is the effect of these new predators
Two coyotes were collared in Roger Williams Park in the
on the ecology of New England?
spring. One was an “alpha” male—a pack leader—who was
Dr. Numi Mitchell, of The Conservation Agency, has studied Rhode Island coyotes for over 15 years, mostly in Newport, Middletown, and Portsmouth. Now a grant from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is allowing her to expand her
Dr. Mitchell uses reports from the public to help identify coyote
given the name “Nicker,” and the other was an alpha female who was named “Whinny.” Unfortunately, Nicker’s career in research was cut short when he was hit and killed by a car, an all too common occurrence, but Whinny went on to give birth to a litter of pups at a most unusual location.
research statewide. Additionally, working on the project with
Whinny’s tracking data shows that the athletic fields at
Dr. Mitchell are the Rhode Island Natural History Survey and
Johnson & Wales University are part of her pack’s territory.