The Coywolves of Cape Cod

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Threaded through the Jurassic Park movies is the romantic thesis that “life finds a way.” It's happening on Cape Cod right under our noses. Our little spit of sandbar has become home to a new kind of animal.

They are called coywolves. Highly intelligent and adaptable, they are very sociable, mate for life and live in family packs.

These hybrids are bigger and more wolf-like than the coyotes of the west—some 62 percent coyote, 27 percent wolf and 11 percent dog. Eighty pounds heavy and double the size of a typical coyote.

"Evolution in action," Trent University geneticist Bradley White calls it. "In many ways, this animal is a creation of human impact on the planet.”

As human settlers populated the northeast during the past few hundred years, decimating the forests and ridding the land of wolves, western coyotes migrated through Canada to take over the territory that had been inhabited by wolves. In Canada’s Algonquin Park, protected wolves bred with the migrating coyotes and by 1919 had spawned the hybrids that now live among us.

Massachusetts is the third most densely populated state in the country, losing an estimated 40 acres of land a day to development. In wooded areas, coywolves eat deer, mice, rabbits and other small animals and rodents. The deer and mice they consume are key, because the incidence of Lyme disease explodes when deer and mice populations increase.

As wooded habitat decreases, however, coywolves are drawn to urban and suburban neighborhoods, where they associate food with people and lose their natural fear of humans.

A 2013 study found that even Ohio coyotes had wolf genes, a surprising finding that suggests coywolves are moving south from New England through the mid-Atlantic area and circling back westward. At least one coywolf has been captured in Manhattan’s Central Park, and 2,000 are estimated to live in greater Chicago.

The Journal News of Westchester County, just north of New York City, ran a huge Page One story last week headlined “On the prowl in suburbia.” The report struck a typically knee-jerk tone about the danger coyotes pose to pets and small children. Residents of this tony suburban area are now setting leg traps on their manicured lawns.

But biologist Jonathan Way has a very different take:

These animals—even the ones living in urban areas—provide such a minor risk compared to other risks in our everyday activities that they do not even qualify as a danger. Yet they are slaughtered in staggering numbers.

Way has devoted his career to studying coyotes around Boston and Cape Cod. It was he who proposed the “coywolf” name, and he is today a voice for their protection.

A quick review of Massachusetts hunting regulations finds that governmental bodies don’t even acknowledge coywolves. Only coyotes are named, and these can be legally hunted down—year-round and in unlimited numbers—using anything from dogs and imitation calls to handguns and archery.

Massachusetts allows people to place bait on their lawns at night and fire from their house at a feeding creature.

Rick Perry, the former Texas governor and persistent presidential aspirant, even shot a coyote while jogging.

Says Way:

This has to be the most unethical, non-sporting practice imaginable. How can this even remotely be called hunting? Sadly, I am now learning that many people kill coyotes like this and I would subjectively guess that over half of the 'coyotes' in Massachusetts are killed this way every year.

For an up-close and personal view of these majestic animals, view “Meet the Coywolf,” at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/coywolf-meet-the-coywolf/8605/

In my next blog, “A Father's Day Gift to Women”


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