2016-09-15 / Around Town

Euthanized: Final Fate for Coyote

By Jack Kelly

Dr. Numi Mitchell, lead biologist for the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study, has announced the latest tracking results and behavioral tendencies of the collared coyote known as Cliff.

“Due to the latest data and incident reports that we have received in the past week, and considering Cliff’s inability to return to non-habituated behaviors, it has been decided to use lethal gunshot force to euthanize him,” Mitchell said.

An NBCS team, including Mitchell and volunteer sharpshooter Roland Bellotti, attempted to draw Cliff out into an open safe shooting space in rural Middletown on Wednesday, Sept. 14, but were unsuccessful.

“Using his collar, we tracked him to a stand of woods where he was watching over the pups. We spent a number of hours trying to draw him out, but he stayed in the wood line,” Mitchell explained. “We will start earlier tomorrow, on the 15th, and we should be able to complete our task then.”

This diagram shows the movements in August of a local coyote, nicknamed Cliff. This diagram shows the movements in August of a local coyote, nicknamed Cliff. Cliff was a member of a litter born to his pack’s alpha male and alpha female in April of 2015. With maturity he showed himself to be an excellent forager and keen hunter, supplying the pack with a steady diet of food. He was accepted as a beta male, subservient to the alpha pair, and flourished in that role.

According to Mitchell, “When the latest litter was born in the spring of 2016, Cliff protected the pups while the alphas hunted and also supplied food for the pups. After a foraging trip through pack territory, he would regurgitate food for the pups.”

Cliff was captured and collared late last winter at the request of the Middletown Police Department, which was investigating a series of coyote complaints involving a pack whose territory straddled the Newport/ Middletown border. The NBCS and the police saw almost immediate results, as Cliff’s tracking information led them to a variety of “hot zone” feeding areas. Steps were taken to address the problem.

Unfortunately, the undercover coyote spent so much time close to people that he lost his fear of humans. “He became almost tame, looking for food in neighborhoods and seemingly unaffected by human presence,” Mitchell said. Cliff was being fed somewhere within a region bordered by Bellevue Avenue to the west, Catherine Street to the north, Memorial Boulevard to the south, and Red Cross Avenue to the east. His daytime forays brought him into the area and within close proximity of morning walkers and joggers.

Cliff was involved in two close encounters with female runners earlier this summer around Eustis Avenue, prompting Mitchell and a team of volunteers from the NBCS to undertake aversive coyote tactics (ACT) on July 19. Using the troublesome coyote’s tracking data, the team located the animal in a rural Middletown area. Bellotti fired rubber buckshot in the animal’s hindquarters on two separate occasions.

“This action was taken to reinforce the innate fear of humans which coyotes are born with,” Mitchell said. Members of the public continued in trying to instill fear by yelling at Cliff when encountering him in their neighborhoods.

Tracking data taken over the weeks following ACT implementation seemed to indicate that these actions were successful.

“Cliff changed his behavior and routine during this time. He stayed away from populated neighborhoods during the day and only moved through these areas late at night to avoid human contact,” Mitchell said. “The pack enlarged their territory and he spent his day hunting for natural prey such as rodents and rabbits in the fields of Middletown near the state airport. Unfortunately, he discovered new food sources in downtown Newport and Middletown and became habituated again very quickly. He reverted to his old ways.”

Data pointed to Cliff making nighttime visits to unsecured commercial dumpsters in the Bellevue Avenue, Spring Street, and lower Thames Street areas in the past three weeks. He also began to frequent old haunts, which quickly raised suspicions that he was being deliberately fed by humans again in the former “hot zone.”

Cliff began to repeat his behavior of passing through neighborhoods during morning daylight hours. On Thursday, Sept. 8, a number of parents were shocked to see the collared coyote move through the Eustis Avenue/Kay Boulevard area while school children were waiting for their buses. Other incidents occurred, including domestic pet attacks and the very close approach to humans by the pups.

“Cliff’s blasé attitude towards humans will have an effect on the pack, especially the pups, which are growing quickly,” Mitchell said. “His influence could cause the young coyotes to become habituated themselves. Once we have dealt with Cliff, we will undertake assertive tactics with the pups to ensure that does not happen.”

For Mitchell and the rest of the NBCS staff and volunteers, the decision to use lethal force did not come easy, but public safety and quality of life issues were paramount.

“Cliff supplied us with data concerning multiple feeding sites in Newport and Middletown. He has been an invaluable investigative tool,” Mitchell stated. “The latest site he uncovered was an area in the Aquidneck Avenue/Green End Avenue neighborhood where intentional feeding is occurring. The Middletown Police are investigating.” Intentionally feeding coyotes is illegal across Aquidneck Island, as it places humans and domestic pets in danger.

Cliff’s demise is directly linked to both intentional and inadvertent feeding that is occurring on the island now. The old adage of “A fed coyote is a dead coyote” certainly applies to this situation.

The exact number of coyote packs across Aquidneck Island is unknown. Mitchell explained, “We have been very involved with local police departments in discovering where certain packs are gaining access to food, whether intentionally or inadvertently, for the past two years. Our studies of collared coyotes have assisted the Newport, Portsmouth and Middletown authorities in locating and shutting down a number of feeding sites in neighborhoods and business locations. We have been concentrating our resources on these programs to help maintain natural coyote diets.”

One of the many side effects of a human-subsidized diet is the rapid growth of coyote populations. The more a female eats, the more fertile she becomes, and litter sizes expand. Litters of a female on a natural diet are about 2-4 pups, while litters for a female with access to human-provided food may go as high as eight pups. Limiting these sources is one of the major ingredients to maintaining lower coyote numbers.

A key reference for coyote facts, movements, and information is coyotesmarts.org, an online resource created two years ago through a partnership of conservation groups such as the Potter League for Animals, the Norman Bird Sanctuary, the Aquidneck Land Trust, the Conservation Agency, and the Rhode Island Natural History Survey. Coyote sightings may also be reported through the website.

View the diagram and read more about Cliff at conservationagency.org.

Return to top