On Monday, March 2, at 7 pm, the Orleans Conservation Trust (OCT) hosted the third of five presentations in our 2015 Winter & Spring Lecture Series at the Orleans Yacht Club. Dr. Jonathan Way, author of Suburban Howls and My Yellowstone Experience, gave his hour-long presentation entitled Coywolves on Cape Cod, touching upon everything from his research on the coywolf here on Cape Cod and eastern MA to the work he has done more recently within the Yellowstone National Park.
During the first segment of his presentation, Dr. Way described the eastern coyote, which he also referred to as the coywolf and northeastern coyote. The coywolf is a term used for a canid hybrid descended from coyotes and one of three other North American Canis species, the gray, eastern, or red wolf. Dr. Way noted that the eastern hybrid coywolf tends to be larger than western coyotes due to the hybridization of the three species and show behaviors intermediate between coyotes and the other parent species. After tracking and tagging a number of coywolves across eastern MA, Dr. Way found that the hybrid coywolves tend to be much larger and heavier than the western coyote, with paws nearly an inch longer in length.
Dr. Way went on to answer the ever looming question, are coyotes dangerous? To help put this question into perspective, Dr. Way used a few statistics, which were very suprising and reassuring to those in attendance:
- 7 million dog bites per year in U.S.
- 800,000 need medical attention
- 1,000 people per day go to ER
- 15-20 people, on average, die per year
- 3 coyote bites on people per year in N.A.
- 5 coyote bites in Massachusetts’ history
- Half (2-3) were rabid
- 2 fatalities in recorded history in North America, including Oct. 2009 in Nova Scotia
Moving on, Dr. Way described his recent trips to Yellowstone National Park which gave him a rare opportunity to observe coyotes, wolves, and other wildlife species in a protected environment, 2.2 million acres to be exact (about 40% size of MA). Unlike MA where coyotes have adapted to primarily move around at night due to the amount of development, infrastructure, and hunting, in Yellowstone coyotes can be observed during the day because no hunting is permitted within the national park.
Whether he and his colleges are researching on the east coast or in the west, there is one very important tool needed to track and study the coyote and that’s a radio-collar. By trapping and placing a radio-collar on the coywolves, Dr. Way can study the coywolves movement and activity patterns, sociality, home range and territory sizes, and den and rendezvous sites used.
Dr. Way noted that this sounds all easy enough, especially for someone who has a Ph.D. in the field, but obtaining the necessary permits to allow him to trap and place the collar on the coywolf is a challenge. Despite hunters in Massachusetts legally being allowed to kill an unlimited number of coywolves for almost 6 full months (Oct.–March) with a $30 general license, researchers like him have to get multiple permits from the State of MA, often waiting months/years, to simply study these same creatures. While remaining composed, Dr. Way’s frustration relating to this topic was readily apparent.
Despite the challenges associated with getting the necessary permits, Dr. Way has traversed the political matrix and has gained approval in the past. Dr. Way discussed the capture techniques, showing a number of pictures of animals caught in the cages that he didn’t intend to catch (one being a large yellow lab). In fact, all and all, Dr. Way has had the fortune of capturing over 50 individuals over 5 dozen times (i.e., repeat captures), giving him an up-close & personal connection with the coywolves. Dr. Way was quoted as saying, “I am repeatedly struck by their beauty and the look of wildness in their eyes, even knowing they live in the suburban wilds.”
Rounding out the lecture Dr. Way gave an overview of his research results, which included taxonomy, genetics, spatial use (territory), social dynamics (group or pack size), sociality, and the movement pattern and dispersal of the coywolves here on Cape Cod. If you missed this lecture, click HERE to see some of Dr. Way’s presentation slides.