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In suburban forest of Valley Forge, balancing coyotes vs. deer

Adaptable predators

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There is evidence, though, that coyotes can significantly reduce a deer population, particularly by taking the young. A study in South Carolina, while not claiming a causal relationship, found that a statewide decrease in deer followed an increase in coyotes. An Alabama study found coyotes were the leading cause of a 67 percent mortality rate among fawns in a herd in Auburn.

Historically, the coyote has been seen as a nuisance, a danger to livestock. But as cities have spread and suburbs expanded into what was wilderness, coyotes have survived and thrived in St. Louis, Boston, Detroit, and Washington. In Chicago, a three-year study found coyotes living near the airport and in subdivisions.

Coyotes can be found across Pennsylvania, and deer are a main meal - not surprising, given their density in many areas and the numbers killed on highways, according to the state Game Commission.

But coyotes are prey as well as predators. They can be hunted or trapped virtually all year in Pennsylvania, and the coyote kill has increased from 1,810 in 1990, to 10,160 in 2000, to 23,699 in 2008.

Attacks on humans are unusual - about four a year in the United States. By comparison, dogs bite 4.7 million people a year.

But when incidents occur they make news, as in July, when two girls were attacked by coyotes within nine days of each other in suburban New York. Neither girl was seriously injured.

Attacks on pets are more common, and pertinent to Valley Forge, a 5.3-square-mile park surrounded by houses, hotels and the King of Prussia mall.

McLaughlin, of Friends of Animals, doesn't underestimate that risk. Some states that treat coyotes gently also educate people about keeping a closer eye on pets and children. Part of the coexistence initiative involves exactly that.

But at Valley Forge, he believes, coyotes could help manage the herd. "They could put a dent in it," he said.

- Philadelphia Inquirer


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