A pilot study from the National Park Service shows that these urban animals can and do make their homes downtown.
Residents of Los Angeles are well aware they share their city with coyotes. But where exactly do those coyotes make their homes? As it turns out, some live pretty darn close to downtown, according to early results from a new pilot study conducted by the biologists of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
In May, researchers from the park collared two coyotes, named C-144 and C-145 because they’re the 144th and 145th coyotes, respectively, to be tracked by the National Park Service in Southern California. Using location data obtained through the GPS collars, the park officials discovered that 144 was spending most of her time in the densely populated Westlake neighborhood, while 145 made his home a little farther north in Silver Lake.
“No one knew if the coyotes in these extremely urban areas were establishing their home ranges exclusively within the developed area or whether they were simply passing through on their way to natural habitat patches like Griffith Park or Elysian Park,” lead field biologist Justin Brown, said in a press release.
To Seth Riley, Brown’s supervisor and a wildlife ecologist who oversees the wildlife programs for the national park, the urban home ranges of these two coyotes are remarkable. Because carnivores need a lot of space to survive, they are the animals most likely to be affected by habitat loss and fragmentation engendered by urbanization. Given that reality, the fact that 144 and 145 have learned to thrive in the heart of one of largest U.S. cities is not just unusual—it’s impressive.
“It’s amazing what these two animals are doing,” Riley tells CityLab. “I mean, 144 especially is right next to downtown Los Angeles. It’s just amazing that she lives where she does as a wild carnivore.” And it’s not mere survival for C-144. She is mother to five pups, which adds an extra layer of complexity. “It’s not just that they’re there, but they’re also effectively reproducing,” Riley says.
Another impressive feat is that 144 has managed to cross the highly trafficked 101 Freeway several times. While researchers aren’t entirely sure how she did it, the act is further testament to her urban savviness.
While this is the park’s first study of urban coyotes in the city of Los Angeles, a prior study tracked coyotes farther out, in west Los Angeles County and east Ventura County as well as in the Simi Hills. In the earlier research, which began in 1996 and ended in 2004, biologists collared 110 animals. By tracking them and examining their diet, the researchers discovered that roughly three-quarters of their subjects’ home ranges remained natural in character. They would visit surrounding urban areas but ultimately preferred more open spaces.
The contrast between these previous results and the ones from the current study is what makes the newer research so fascinating to park biologists. “Even with just two animals, it’s been really interesting,” Riley says. “Basically, we’ve already learned that coyotes can make it in the most densely populated parts of the city, which is pretty amazing.” In September, the researchers hope to collar four more coyotes—one in an urban area and three in the more suburban areas where they worked before, for comparison purposes.
The implications for understanding urban wildlife in an age when urbanization is ramping up are critical. It’s partially a conservation issue, says Riley. “I think it’s really important to learn what are the effects of urbanization on wildlife populations and what kind of animals can make it or can’t make it and how are they doing that or not doing that,” he says.
The work also matters because it shows that these coyotes can and do live in the most densely populated, developed areas of Los Angeles with little to no friction with their human neighbors. In the earlier study, Riley says, not a single one of the 110 tagged coyotes ever had a conflict with people as far as researchers know. And though they haven’t been following 144 and 145 for very long, they’ve had no problems with these animals, either. Riley acknowledges that human-coyote confrontations do occur, but says their work and the work of other coyote researchers indicates that aggressive animals are only a tiny percentage of the population.
Riley says 144 and 145 specifically “are in the most densely populated urban areas. So it just shows how well they can actually co-exist, even with lots of people.”
Top image via CC License.