2016-09-22 / Opinion

A Real Cliffhanger


As this week has progressed, residents of Newport and Middletown have been following –  whether they want to or not – the whereabouts of Cliff, the rogue coyote who, it appears, has acquired a name and a local following. With no joking aforethought, Cliff has shown himself to be quite the wily four-legged fugitive.

Known as a habituated coyote, Cliff unwittingly received his name and a GPS collar last February when the town of Middletown asked the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study (NBCS) project to “collar” a coyote from a pack that has been observed becoming increasingly familiar with local residential streets and backyards.

Last week it fell to Dr. Numi Mitchell, president of The Conservation Agency in Jamestown and the lead biologist for the NBCS, to announce that “due to the latest data and incident reports … and considering Cliff’s inability to return to non-habituated behavior, it has been decided to use lethal gunshot force to euthanize him.”

In other words, Cliff has become a victim of human curiosity and kindness. He has gotten too close for comfort.

As of yesterday he was still on the run. On two mornings this week, he showed up at school bus stops, in plain sight. “At this point,” Mitchell added, “police have determined his habituation has crossed the safety line.” Yet as she points out, “There is no quick, safe, or legal way to hunt and kill coyotes in a residential setting.”

Not everyone is happy with the verdict about Cliff. Most of the Facebook comments in response to a story in the Sept. 14 issue of Newport This Week condemned the decision to euthanize the elusive animal. And there is no reason to blame Mitchell, who speaks not as a bloodthirsty animal control expert, but with the pragmatism of a biologist. “Why,” Mitchell asked, “would we want to train coyotes to be a problem?”

Armed with a Ph.D. and years of experience she has had since the NBCS was launched in 2005, Mitchell is well-equipped to do battle. And her adversary is not the coyote. It’s people who need to take the situation seriously.

“Aquidneck Islanders could avoid this wild-wild west scenario altogether,” she told Newport This Week, “by securing all food and edible garbage.”

With coyotes showing up at school bus stops, we find it difficult to understand why there is such resistance to the assessment of someone with her expertise, and to her advice. The loss of a family pet is difficult enough. The loss of – or injury to – a child is impossible to fathom. Especially when it can be avoided.

Besides trusting in a trained expert, there are some other measures that could be taken. Direct feeding of coyotes is illegal in all Aquidneck Island communities and carries a fine of $50-$500. Why not increase that amount – to $300-$1,000? Some residents have suggested that, as well as with a possible jail sentence. Inviting coyotes into a residential neighborhood by intentional direct feeding does not a good – or wise – neighbor make. No matter how well-intentioned, leaving an accessible food supply places adults, children, and family pets in potentially dangerous conditions. It is also the least humane thing that can be done to these wild creatures

“If you really love these animals,” Mitchell told Channel 10’s Adam Bagni on Wednesday, “then don't feed them. You're not doing them a kindness. A fed coyote,” she added, “is a dead coyote.”

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