By Kimberly Zayac
In the nearly 15 years that Mickleton resident John Dormann has raised Babydoll Sheep, never have any of his flock been harmed by natural causes. However, early one morning in mid-May, he and his wife awoke to a gruesome scene.
Walking into their backyard, Dormann saw one of his lambs trapped in the fence, as if something had tried to pull it through. Its head was removed as well as a leg; its innards were lying close by.
As soon as he saw the carnage, Dormann knew that it was the work of a coyote. “It could have been more than one, which is why it was in pieces, I don’t know.” He soon reported the attack to his friends in the local police as a warning to other residents.
Dormann is not alone in this. Over the last several months, East Greenwich and Woolwich residents have sighted coyotes in the area, taking to community Facebook pages to warn friends and neighbors.
However, when contacted for questioning, local police in Woolwich, East Greenwich and Harrison townships state that they have not received any formal reports of suspicious coyote behavior over the last several months.
Harrison Township Lieutenant Ronald Cundey, Administrative Commander, states that in the event of a sighting, there is little the police department could do. “They’re in their natural habitat,” he states of coyotes, “they’re no different than a deer or anything else.” Cundey instructs that if residents do notice anything suspicious in relation to the animal, they should call their local police to investigate. Consequently animal control may be called.
Coyotes are not new residents to the area. Residing in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, New England and into Canadian territories such as Quebec, the Eastern coyote was first introduced from the west in the early 1900’s. Their job was to control animal populations such as deer, turkey and other small animals such as rabbits. Their typical diet consists of these animals, but changes with the seasons and with what is available. Coyotes have been known to eat insects and even berries when larger game is hard to find.
Growing up to be between 30 and 40 pounds, the size and stature of the Eastern coyote is similar to that of a medium-sized dog, which they can occasionally be mistaken for. Telling the difference can be particularly confusing given the fact that over the years, coyotes have bred with wolves and wild dogs, creating a hybrid coyote. This is the breed which locals have been spying in the area.
East Greenwich resident Roe Daidone reported seeing the animal near her Greenwich Crossings apartment complex back in early April, first confusing it for someone’s pet.
“It was about 8:30 at night and I was standing on my back deck and I saw it run down the street,” Daidone reports. At first, she thought the animal was a neighbor’s dog. “It looked like a German Shepard,” she said.
After watching it run, she soon realized it wasn’t. “It ran with its head down. It had a bushier tail and a different gait than a dog.”
The coyote continued to run across a neighbor’s lawn and into the nearby woods. Daidone took to the internet to see if she could confirm her suspicions that this “dog” was in fact a coyote.
Why, all of a sudden, has the area experienced a spike in coyote sightings? Large animal veterinarian Dr. Ernie Beier of Beier Vet Services in Mickleton believes that the animal’s prevalence has been a long time coming. “If my memory serves me correctly, coyotes are more western animals that have migrated here over the last 30-40 years, over a long period of time,” he said.
Beier has countless years of experience treating animals in the East Greenwich area and has occasionally come across one injured by what could be a coyote. In early April, a call was made about a cat that had been attacked.
“It looked like something had taken a chunk out of its back end,” Beier stated. However, by the time he reached the animal it had already passed away from its injuries.
He was not quick to confirm that this attack was that of a coyote. Beier mentioned that red foxes and weasels are also predators in our area that have been known to attack small pets. This is not to say that coyote attacks never happen. “Coyotes are unfortunately back in the area,” he said.
Beier stated that suburban areas such as these are a natural draw to coyotes. “Coyotes like the suburbs because there are a lot of places for them to hide. There’s good food sources like trash cans, and even small dogs and cats, which has been well documented,” Beier said.
Dormann adds that the reduction of their natural habitat due to commercial expansion could play a role in the coyote’s prevalence in the area. “We live in nature,” he said. “We’re taking away from their habitat.” Daidone agrees, stating that they’re being pushed out of their territories from the developments.
Beier assures residents that they should not be overly fearful of coyotes taking up residence in our area. “They generally fear people,” he said. Coyotes are both skittish and elusive creatures, causing contact with humans to be few and far between.
However, small animals are easy targets for coyotes. “It’s a problem when they start to get used to their environment because they start getting bold,” Dormann said. “This is when people’s pets get hurt.”
Residents should take extra precautions to keep their pets safe. “They are doing what they were brought in to do—controlling the population of deer and turkey. But once they run out of those kind of animals to eat, they will go after others like cats and dogs because they are opportunistic creatures,” Beier stated.
Beier strongly recommends having any family pets vaccinated for rabies, a disease that coyotes are capable of carrying. “That could be a benefit to both the animal and the owner.”
He also recommends investing in animals to guard large flocks. “In areas where coyotes are, there will always be a percentage of a loss of livestock, but damage can be avoided by getting guard dogs for the livestock such as the Great Pyrenees, llamas, and male and female donkeys,” he said.
As they have no natural predators, residents can expect coyotes to stay in the area. While they are not an immediate threat to humans, always be cautious when encountering one of these animals, and call police with any concerning activity. Said Dormann, “My main concern is local residents being aware that these are wild animals.”