2016-07-28 / Front Page

Coyote 'Cliff' Still on Prowl

By Jack Kelly

Cliff seen in a driveway on Dresser Street in Newport on the morning of Monday, July 25. Cliff seen in a driveway on Dresser Street in Newport on the morning of Monday, July 25. Coyotes are again in the forefront of local news as numerous sightings are relayed to the Newport Police Department. The majority of reports center on “Cliff,” a coyote previously fitted with a radio tracking/GPS collar by the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study (NBCS) for the purpose of finding areas where coyotes are being fed by humans, either intentionally or inadvertently. (See “Feeding Coyotes Aggravates Problems,” NTW July 21, 2016 p. 21.)

Cliff’s pack, with around seven members, operates in an approximately 3.5-mile zone overlapping the Newport/Middletown border.

“At the request of the Middletown Police Department, we collared Cliff to explore the coyote issues in a Middletown neighborhood. He became an instant forensic success and led us to a number of problem areas that the police were able to mitigate,” explained Dr. Numi Mitchell of NBCS.

Unfortunately, Cliff became fairly tame and habituated to humans feeding him and has boldly approached a few individuals, possibly begging for food. Because of these actions, Cliff has been subjected to coyote aversion tactics in recent days, which seems to be keeping him away from humans. But he is still seeking food in neighborhoods where he has been fed in the past. Mitchell asks that anyone who sights Cliff yell loudly to scare him off. “This will help to reinforce the aversive coyote tactics, and may save his life.”

Mitchell explained that Cliff has become an urban coyote. “These coyotes will move freely about urban streets, often during the day. If people throw them food, the coyotes may approach begging for it,” she stated. “We need to increase the understanding that feeding coyotes and leaving unsecured food in residential areas will create both coyote traffic and coyotes that don’t understand that they are not part of the community.”

The wildlife biologist addressed another issue which is disconcerting because of the threat to domestic pets and other wildlife. “There have been instances where we have discovered poisoned meat left out to bait coyotes. We have also discovered large treble hooks used for cod or shark fishing, with meat attached, left hanging from trees and bushes,” she reported.

“Domesticated cats and dogs may be tempted to eat the poisoned meat, or even jump for hanging meat. Birds of prey could also take the meat, maybe back to their nests to feed their young. Then we lose a whole family of raptors.”

Leaving poisoned meat out also poses a threat to Rhode Island’s growing population of bald eagles. Adult and juvenile bald eagles are seen in flight over Aquidneck Island on a daily basis now, and they forage locally for prey. Eagles take carrion readily.

The penalties for killing a bald eagle, whether intentionally or unintentionally, are life altering. Felony convictions carry a prison term of up to two years, a $250,000 fine, or both.

“While it can be frustrating that coyotes are here to stay, they are a valuable component of the ecosystem on the island. Large portions of their natural diet include mice, voles, woodchucks, rabbits, squirrels, ducks, geese, and deer, all of which depend on predators to control their numbers,” Mitchell stressed. “As long as coyotes are not baited into neighborhoods by loose pets, unsecured garbage, and direct feeding, they are easy to live with and rarely seen.”

This past winter, NBCS and Andes Visual Films began a collaboration to create a video about urban coyotes on Aquidneck Island. Newport videographer Rodrigo Fernandez, known for his stunning videos around the world, has shot hours of high-definition IMAX-quality footage of local coyotes, including Cliff.

“He was determined to make this video and I know he spent 12 full nights hiding in a nursery truck at Chase Farms in February, as well as in other areas of the island,” Mitchell said. “He has captured footage of coyotes never before obtained in the Northeast.”

It is hoped that this educational video will open people’s eyes to the problems of feeding coyotes. A sampling of the video has been released on the NBCS website at theconservationagency.org – from the home page “Coyotes” tab, click on “Tracking NBCS.” The excerpt may also be viewed on Newport This Week’s Facebook page.

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