By Mark Weckel
Needless to say, the Gotham Coyote Project is about studying coyotes: where they live, what they eat, how many are there, how they got here, and where they're going. Fun stuff for biologists, but not the whole story.
Gotham Coyote stands for so much more. Coyotes in NYC (or Chicago, or Boston or Los Angeles) challenge all of us to face the false divide we tend to construct in our minds between the "human" and "natural" worlds. The question I get all they time about urban coyotes is,"They shouldn't naturally be here, right?" And my circular answer is, "Well, they are here, so I guess it is."
The truth is that the scientific community has been a bit slow in confronting this dichotomy between humans and nature. Way back in the early '00s, I can remember reading geography papers criticizing conservationists (and Western society in general) for promoting a human-nature binary. The tide has definitely changed, and the rise in interest in urban ecology is a testament to this shift. As I now like to tell my students, nature is and so are we.
I don't romanticize the urban coyote. There will be times when an individual coyote in a particular setting may threaten public safety and health. But the fact that coyotes are here at all, to be studied, to be feared, to be awed, and to be contemplated is amazing. At a time when urban conservation is red hot and we talk about farming rooftops, greening our streets, or restoring wetlands, all with an eye to a more sustainable, resilient, "natural" city, the coyote should be our mascot, our flagship species. Coyotes, as a largely persecuted species, represent resilience, adaptability, and change. And like the process of building a more resilient metropolis, building a more diverse urban ecosystem will require us to accept the idea that the urban coyote is imperfect (it's not the northeastern wolf we once had), and it will require sacrifice (e.g. don't leave your small dog outside if you live near a woodlot). The urban coyote has an uncertain, but hopefully promising future, and it should be our conscience as we raise the banner for green urban future.
In future posts, we will use this website to continue to update you on our coyote research, but we will also talk about issues that the urban coyote represents.