- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Coyotes have ventured into a new territory — the wooded hills of the District’s Rock Creek Park.

Several of the wolf-like canines have been spotted in the park in the past few months. Adrian Coleman, superintendent for the park, said a few park visitors had reported seeing the animals, but their presence in the area was not confirmed until a park official saw a coyote in mid-September.

Coyotes slowly have migrated to the eastern United States in the past century, but this fall’s sightings are the first to be documented in the District.

Although folklore suggests that coyotes prefer the wide open spaces of the western Plains, experts say these highly adaptable animals also can thrive in urban environments like the District.

“It’s not at all surprising to me that coyotes would be reported in the D.C. area,” said Doug Inkley, senior science adviser for the National Wildlife Federation.

Every state in the continental United States has a coyote population, Mr. Inkley said. In recent years, the animals have even been spotted in New York City’s Central Park.

Like foxes and wolves, coyotes are members of the canidae family of mammals. They range in color from dark brown to light gray and can weigh anywhere from 25 to 50 pounds.

Coyotes generally are known to be afraid of people, but increased interaction with humans can cause the animals to become more aggressive in some situations.

“They are primarily nocturnal creatures, and in most cases, in rural areas, they are hunted and persecuted,” Mr. Inkley said.

“In urban areas, where they’re not hunted, they can be bolder and possibly less afraid of humans.”

Bill Line, a spokesman with the National Park Service, said this aggression often comes about as a result of humans feeling too comfortable with coyotes.

“Whenever people think ‘Oh, it’s a nice cute animal, and let’s go feed it,’ accidents can happen or worse,” he said.

Instead, Mr. Line said people should respect the natural instincts of coyotes to find food on their own.

As a carnivorous mammal, a coyote’s diet usually consists of a mixture of berries and nuts as well as small animals like raccoons and squirrels. Pets such as dogs and cats also can fall prey to coyotes if they are left outside in areas where coyotes reside.

Mr. Line said the park has no plans at this time to curtail the coyotes’ presence in the area and encourages visitors to act with caution if they see the animals.

To avoid any unwanted interaction with the animals, Mr. Line said visitors should keep their dogs on leashes and stick to marked trails.

By taking these precautions and choosing not to provoke the coyotes, Mr. Inkley said D.C. residents will be able to co-exist peacefully with the animals.

“By and large, they’re generally not going to be a problem,” he said.

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