I’m always concerned that animals are represented correctly in mass media because of its broad influence. I’ve written about this before (see also) in some my essays for Psychology Today, and just last night I was astounded to see an essay titled “Wolves and mountain lions 'poised to invade densely populated cities in the United States’”.
This essay began as follows: “Wolves and mountain lions could soon be a more common sight in densely populated cities in the United States, experts fear.” This is not so because I know many more experts who do not hold this view. Dr. Stan Gehrt, of Ohio State University, claims, “The coyote is the test case for other animals” including gray wolves and mountain lions (cougars). But this is not so at all because coyotes have vastly different life styles than wolves or mountain lions and solid science shows this to be the case. Let's appreciate America's song dog for whom they really are. For extensive details on the fascinating lives of wolves please see the two excellent books (see also) edited by wolf experts Marco Musiani, Luigi Boitani, and Paul Paquet, and for more information on mountain lions please click here.
Yes, coyotes rarely attack livestock and dogs and cats but, in fact, dog fights and dog attacks and bites directed toward humans are incredibly more common. There is no doubt that coyotes have the opportunity to do significantly more harm than they do but choose not to do so. They have a healthy respect for people and actually avoid us almost all of the time.
Coyotes are far more adaptable than either carnivore and have much wider ranges. Indeed, wolves don’t live near many “densely populated cities” and both wolves and cougars take every measure to avoid humans.
Dr. Gehrt continues, “People living in urban areas are going to have to get used to predators on their doorstep”. I frankly don’t see how he can feel comfortable making this claim. It is far too sensational and fear mongering for my liking based on what we actually know about the behavior of these animals based on solid science.
In fact, what we do know (and some of this is based on Dr. Gehrt's own work) is that coyotes largely avoid people- even in densely populated areas. They are not at our "doorstep." In fact studies show they have shifted to a more nocturnal life in cities to avoid people. And we also know that coyotes play an important role in helping to control rodents among other free ecological services. As Camilla Fox of Project Coyote points out in her co-authored book Coyotes in Our Midst, coyotes are smart, adaptable, resilient and deserving of respect and appreciation for the many ecological benefits they provide in both urban and rural areas (you can download a free copy of her book here).
Coyotes are not the test case for other carnivores
In another essay Dr. Gehrt said the coyote has forced people to “re-evaluate” the wisdom of living amongst predators, an inconvenience humanity has largely been able to evade for several centuries. . . . They’re so good at what they do, and so secretive, they didn’t really give us a choice. That’s a major philosophical shift for people ..."
Really? I'd very much like to see the data from which these claims stem. I don't know of any formal study that has dealt with these issues. Once again, this is a lot of unsupported sensationalism that feeds into the hands of people who want to harm or kill the urban animals into whose home we moved and Dr. Gehrt should limit his claims to facts for which there are supporting data.
Mr. Gehrt needs to be clear what is speculation and what is based on science. In many ways he's more dangerous to the animals than those who openly want to harm and kill them. This adds fuel to the war on wildlife. I hope that he changes his fear mongering ways and tells it like it is.
Irresponsible misrepresentation and speculation grounded in sensationalism based on bad science is bad for all animals. Scientists need to clear and honest about what we know and don't know and we need to strive for peaceful coexistence with all the animals with whom we share ouw homes and whose homes we have redecorated, and this is simple to do.
Note: I just received this essay in response to mine. Please click here.