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Coyotes in New York City Lead Surge in Urban Wildlife

A spike in urban wildlife in New York City is complicating pest control and creating a public health risk not normally faced by city-slickers, a wildlife expert says.

Already this year, six wild coyotes have been spotted across Manhattan, a significant increase according to The Wildlife Damage Management Program at Cornell University. Scientists have also noted a surge in raccoon, deer and Canada geese populations. Researchers say that geese and deer populations have been building over the past decade, but the spike in urban coyotes in Manhattan is a relatively recent occurrence.

A spike in urban wildlife such as coyotes poses a serious public health concern because they can transmit rabies, said Paul Curtis, an urban wildlife expert at Cornell University.

"People really don’t expect to see coyotes in Manhattan," Curtis told LiveScience. "But coyotes have been in Central Park several times before, and they will be again."

There are many ways for wildlife to commute into Manhattan, said Curtis. The most common is for the coyotes in Westchester County, N.Y. — about 40 miles (65 kilometers) to the north of the city — to follow natural travel corridors such as power lines, train tracks, or greenways into New York City.

Birds are among the most adaptable urban creatures. Migrating sonbirds love New York parks. Canada geese are so prevalent — a flock of them forced the river landing of US Airways flight 1549 last year — that city officials slaughter geese routinely around the major airports.

Urban wildlife are not confined to Manhattan either. Curtis said coyotes will roam up to 70 miles from home, and they have been spotted in Brooklyn and Queens as well.

The recent spike in coyotes has prompted the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to begin working on a new policy to handle urban wildlife.

Curtis will discuss New York City’s urban wildlife boom, the human-wildlife conflict, and what urban areas can do to control the problem on Tuesday, May 18 at Cornell’s ILR Conference Center in New York City. 

Brett Israel was a staff writer for Live Science with a focus on environmental issues. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from The University of Georgia, a master’s degree in journalism from New York University, and has studied doctorate-level biochemistry at Emory University.