Guess who’s coming for dinner?
Coyote stops by MIT
MIT is not isolated from nature. Case in point: this young Eastern coyote, calmly sunning itself on March 16 between Buildings 18 and 6. A passerby spotted it and alerted MIT police, who roped off the area. Their call to Cambridge Animal Control established that the coyote was not a threat if left alone; so an officer kept tabs on the courtyard until midnight to ensure that no one tried to pet the visitor. Some time that night, the coyote quietly left, unremarked.
Encounters like this are not unusual. Coyotes are highly adaptable; instead of retreating in the face of urban sprawl, they have settled into American cities and urban ecosystems. Perhaps 10,000 coyotes live in Massachusetts. Though rarely seen, they are found throughout Greater Boston. They avoid humans and hunt mostly at night, retreating by day to urban parks, “caves” beneath porches and decks, and empty buildings. Upscale Newton is home to so many coyotes that the city has set up a coyote-sighting web page. In January, Boston police shot a coyote in an alley near Louisburg Square.
Sharing a city with coyotes can lead to conflict. To humans, coyotes pose little danger if left undisturbed; rabid coyotes are rare, and healthy coyotes normally attack humans only in self-defense. But to cats and dogs, coyotes are predators. Coyotes can scale a six-foot fence or dig under it. They hunt small animals, such as rats and insects, but cats and small dogs are often easier to catch.
In one early-morning instance in November 2017, four coyotes attacked two terrier dogs near woods in Natick. The teenager walking the dogs was able to grab one, but the other was out of reach. The coyotes tore it apart in front of the teen, then carried it off. In another incident, a Newton woman with two 80-pound Labradors photographed a coyote as it walked by, a large, orange house cat hanging from its mouth. The coyote ignored her and her dogs entirely.
Attempts to eradicate urban coyotes have all failed, and research suggests eradication may not be feasible. In fact, it may not be desirable. Overall, urban coyotes appear to benefit their environment. By hunting their natural diet — mice, roaches, rats — in cities, they keep those vermin in check. One camera-wearing coyote in Chicago ate more than 1,800 rats in a year. Coexisting with urban coyotes may be better in the long run than conflict with them.
Massachusetts classifies coyotes as a protected resource. The Massachusetts state government site recommends dealing with coyotes by keeping pets and pet food indoors. Don’t leave pizza boxes or other food trash on or near trash cans. If you see a coyote, simply walk away without hurrying. If it approaches you, frighten it off by waving your arms at it, shouting, and throwing rocks. Never leave dogs or cats outdoors unsupervised, even inside a fence in daylight, and always keep your dog or cat on a leash when outdoors with it.