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How coyotes made their homes in America’s cities

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One park at a time

Coyotes are not generally the first things that come to mind when you picture urban wildlife. Pigeons, rats, raccoons, squirrels — they’ve burrowed deeply into the ecosystems of cities. Urban humans are used to guarding their trash cans against raccoons, feeding pigeons in the park*, or running in terror from a defiant rat on the sidewalk. They all come with the territory.

But across North America, coyotes have been staking their claim on cities as well. Decades of humans clearing forests and killing off apex predators like wolves helped coyotes expand their range across most of the continent, and they’ve proved remarkably adept at carving out territories within urban areas. Coyotes, like rats or raccoons, are generalists: their food and shelter needs are broad and highly flexible, so they can thrive within a few blocks of a city park as if it were the open prairie. They’ve also got a knack for profiting off human resources without perturbing the humans themselves. So, most of the time, the thousands of urban coyotes in the US live their scrappy coyote lives utterly hidden away.

An urban coyote up close
An urban coyote with a tracking collar.
Image: David Harelson / Presidio Trust

But things don’t always go so smoothly. San Francisco has hosted a coyote population since around 2003, and has also dealt with a small handful of coyote-human conflicts in the years since. Pet cats have gone missing; small dogs have been attacked or killed; residents have felt menaced by large predators trotting around their neighborhoods. As more coyotes have settled into green spaces around town, officials have struggled to strike the right balance between managing the coyotes and educating the citizens.

Recently, The Verge spent the day with Jonathan Young, a wildlife ecologist who’s tasked with managing the coyotes in San Francisco’s Presidio parkland. He’s the local peacekeeper between coyotes and humans, and he has his hands full. Watch the video above to see what it takes to track animals with an innate knack for invisibility. And see why, in spite of what some concerned citizens might demand, the coyotes of San Francisco aren’t going anywhere.

*Actually, don’t feed pigeons in the park. I don’t know why I wrote that. Don’t feed any wildlife. Definitely don’t feed coyotes.