“Act big and make loud noises.” In the bad old days of the Big Apple, this might have been excellent advice for those occasions when you needed to take a walk to the bodega to stock up on beer and cigarettes. (And let it please the Lord for those days not to return.) Now, however, it is part of “Five Easy Tips for Coexisting with Coyotes,” which is advice for city dwellers from the New York City Parks Department, regarding, well, coexisting with coyotes. Because, they’re here, they’re hairy, and, according to the powers-that-be, they are apparently more than welcome to stay.
The Eastern coyote is sometimes referred to as the “Coywolf” because of evidence that it emerged via hanky-panky between coyotes and gray wolves. Its territory stretches from Ontario and Nova Scotia in the north down through New England and into New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. And now you can add Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town neighborhood, among others, to places where the Eastern coyote has set his or her paws. Recent sightings of coyotes there and in other Manhattan locations have caused minor media ruckuses as people follow the chase, but the real news if you ask me is that the Parks Department is quite happy with them being in the city, and is expecting them to be around in Central Park for the long term. They’ve been sighted to the north in Bronx parks for quite a few years, so it’s not like they dropped out of the sky, but—on the other hand—the thing about the Bronx is that it’s a contiguous part of the United States of America (as startling as this may be to Kansans) whereas Manhattan is, well, an island. This has kept New York City proper insulated from quite a few things, like deer (and their awful ticks), bears (at least at the time of writing), in addition to innumerable wholesome virtues of the heartland that have never been proven to survive the journey over the Hudson or Harlem rivers.
So how are the coyotes getting here? It’s suggested they may follow “a train line;” whether on a bridge or underground, I don’t know. Five years ago, one was seen waiting on the Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel, and apparently it managed to come up with the toll, because a little later there was a big coyote chase in Tribeca resulting in one tranquilized canid.
So, a carnivorous predator, skilled at hunting singly or in packs, is invading New York City, competing with those humans here who already occupy the niche. Yet the Parks Department is not treating this as the prologue to an apocalyptic disaster movie scenario, but instead simply as nature taking its course. Coyotes are part of the food chain, the narrative goes, and they will help control populations of rats, rabbits and the like. We need to practice our “Five Easy Tips” for coexisting with them and go about our business.
Well, why do I strongly suspect this isn’t going to end well? For my part, I love animals, especially canids. I’m exactly the kind of fool who, if I saw a coyote in Central Park, would probably try to make friends with him, offering him lunch at the Shake Shack and an evening of music at the Village Vanguard. After all, the NYC Parks Department assures me that “nationwide, only a handful of coyote bites are reported each year,” and there are millions of people across the nation, and zillions of coyotes. What are the odds?
On the other hand, there’s a rational person buried somewhere deep within my skin who starts whispering: “BUT, there’s a lot of room out there in the rest of the country. Coyotes and people might coexist pretty well in Arizona, but how are they going to get along on a crowded 6 train?” Or indeed, how will they get along when dowagers strolling down paths in Central Park start seeing their Yorkies getting chomped up like so much beef jerky?
As far as the species homo sapiens goes, it occurs to me that we sure have funny ways of measuring progress. Time was, progress was defined by pushing back the boundaries of unforgiving nature; now we pat ourselves on the back for allowing it to encroach again on our carefully built settlements. I’m all for controlling the rat population in New York City, but if we want the coyotes to achieve it, we should equip them with badges and flashlights and set them loose on Lexington Avenue. We’re not going to do that. Instead, we’re apparently going to attempt some strange détente of wildness and urbanity.
But then maybe that’s what New York City has always been about. Good luck to the coyotes.