Managing Human-Coyote Conflicts In Cities Via Prey Species
As coyotes become increasingly common in urban communities across North America, they have occasionally caused problems, particularly attacks on companion animals. While rare, when they do occur, these incidents may compromise human well-being. Because urban coyotes depend largely on natural prey and would target companion animals under unusual circumstances (e.g., if inexperienced or injured), the presence of natural prey could help reduce the rates of human-coyote conflict in urban areas.
In Landscape and Urban Planning, Magle, et al. examine the association of black-tailed prairie dogs to the rates of human-coyote conflict in and near Denver, Colorado. A human-coyote conflict was defined as an incident in which coyotes threatened or attacked humans or, more commonly, companion animals. The authors designated a 368.4 km2 study area and within it, 384 “habitat fragments” inhabited by coyotes. 230 human-coyote conflicts, observed in the study area from January 2003 to June 2010, were examined. Through spatial assessment and multivariate analysis, the authors accounted for the relative influence of other environmental factors (e.g., coyotes’ habitat availability and ages), and evaluated specifically the influence of prairie dogs on human-coyote conflicts.
The authors suggest that the strategic management of prey colonies may help manage human-wildlife conflict in cities globally. The habitat fragments containing prairie dogs exhibited the lowest rates of conflict, whereas those without prairie dogs exhibited the highest rates. In addition, the rates of conflict were lower in fragments with prairie dogs than in those without prairie dogs—up to 400 meters away from the fragments, implying that prairie dog colonies may affect human-coyote conflicts beyond the colonies. Distance to habitat fragments without prairie dogs was in fact found to carry the highest “importance weight” compared to other environmental factors, suggesting that it is an important predictor of human-coyote conflicts.
Although how prairie dogs influence human-coyote conflicts remains to be seen, the authors speculate that prairie dogs and related organisms serve as a food source for coyotes, making it less likely for coyotes to attack humans or companion animals. While this may be an uncomfortable trade-off for some companion animal advocates, that does not make it any less of an option to consider as a conservation strategy overall. As one of the first attempts to establish a direct link between human-carnivore conflicts and prey species, this study points to the importance of conserving urban prey, and ultimately, diverse wildlife in urban landscapes.