A supposed hybrid predator, known by some as coywolves, has spread from upstate to semirural New York and the New Jersey suburbs. The debate over whether to protect or drive the animals away have split the folks of Clarkstown, New York.
CONGERS, N.Y. — Of all the coyotes that roam Dr. Davies Farm, looking for prey on this apple-picking orchard less than an hour from New York City, manager James Higgins says one of the pack stands out: Bigger and with more gray fur than its mates, this wolflike canine is a reason, Higgins says, there are fewer deer nibbling at Dr. Davies’ stock.
“We love having him here,” Higgins said as he drove around the property on an ad hoc coyote safari. There were no sightings, but Higgins ventured a profile of the creature: aloof, calm, uninterested in people.
“Anytime he sees any kind of human activity, he bolts,” Higgins said. “As long as he stays in his space and we stay in ours, everyone works in harmony.”
Not everyone shares Higgins’ fondness for this supposed hybrid predator, known by some as coywolves, which have spread from upstate to semirural New York and the New Jersey suburbs, and migrated as far into the city grid as Rikers Island and La Guardia Airport — where officials had one pack euthanized in November 2016 over the objections of animal-rights activists.
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Some who admire the creatures balk at the portmanteau name.
“The word ‘coywolf’ is kind of freighted, and frankly most wildlife biologists prefer the term ‘Eastern coyote,’” said Christopher Nagy, a wildlife biologist and co-founder of Gotham Coyote, a New York City-based research project studying the animals in their new habitats.
“Because these buzzwords have an impact, and the word ‘wolf’ is one of the most loaded in nature.”
But the name has caught on as the debate intensifies over whether to try to drive them out or let them be, and it is being bandied about in places like Clarkstown, the Rockland County municipality that includes Dr. Davies Farm.
“There’s a reason we say ‘cry wolf,’” Patricia McCoy-Coleman, Clarkstown’s animal-control officer, said.
Yet even she is willing to apply the moniker to the right coyote. McCoy-Coleman calls one that she sees around town “Frankenstein” — “Frankie,” for short — because of its odd proportions. “He has a head that’s very big for his body, and it looks like someone put different parts together,” she said.
Two years ago, a large, gray coyote — visibly sick with mange and seen repeatedly near one of the town’s busiest parks — was killed by the Clarkstown police. McCoy-Coleman sent two DNA samples from the animal to Gotham Coyote, hoping to learn how much wolf and dog there was in the coyote.
But the animal’s genetic mix was “out of the scope of my research,” said Carol Henger, a researcher at Gotham Coyote. “All I could tell her is that it was not related to the NYC coyotes.”
Whatever the animals are called, they are turning up all over Clarkstown, in parks and near schools, on residential streets, and in business and industrial corridors, residents say. They have been spotted near Freedom Causeway, walking on frozen sections of DeForest Lake. Workers at Tilcon, a stone quarry in West Nyack, sometimes see them crossing the quarry floor.
Last November, a plumber posted a video on Facebook of a gray coyote walking up a driveway in Nyack. “Please watch small kids, dogs and cats,” he wrote.
Wolf comparisons lit up the video’s comment thread, and six days later, Clarkstown police reposted the clip with their own advisory, stating, “This coywolf has been spotted this morning in the Congers area.”
Neighbors traded stories of close encounters with the coyote — or coywolf — at a recent meeting at Clarkstown’s town hall in New City. About 80 people attended the “Coyote Education Seminar” hosted by Clarkstown’s senior elected official, Supervisor George Hoehmann, who said he had to address growing questions and concerns about the coyote population.
“There certainly is a fear factor, and the flames can be fanned by social media or by people talking at the corner deli,” Hoehmann said. He said it was important to give people sound information — and perspective, since the last serious episode involving a coyote in Clarkstown was five years ago, when one attacked a dog in a backyard.
Noting that Clarkstown also has bald eagles and hawks, Hoehmann said, “People should be more concerned about the birds of prey swooping down and taking away cats and small dogs than coyotes.”
The centerpiece of the meeting was a talk by an amateur naturalist from Mineola, Frank Vincenti, who cuts hair for a living and, on the side, operates a nonprofit, The Wild Dog Foundation, which offers tips to municipalities that have become coywolf habitats.
Vincenti, 48, described himself as “pro-coyote.” He said that some audiences have reacted with open hostility to his presentation. But this group listened quietly as he related the Eastern coyote’s genetic and geographic history — “this is not Frankenstein’s monster” — as well as its hardiness, smarts and ability to adapt to almost any surroundings, and its relationship to people.
“Coyotes want nothing to do with us,” Vincenti said. But he allowed that coyotes, like any wild animal, can get comfortable around people, especially if they are indulged — and worse, fed.
Vincenti and two other speakers, McCoy-Coleman and the Orangetown animal-control officer, Richard Padilla, recommended steps to take with coyotes: Yell at them, run at them, carry umbrellas to wave at them and use ultrasonic, dog-frequency sound blasters — called Dazers — or air horns to honk at them. This goes double, they said, for people walking pets — which, it should go without saying, should be leashed.