Have you noticed a little less munching on your garden by rabbits and squirrels this year? If you have, it could be that a family of coyotes has taken up residence near your home. Coyotes, foxes, and other predators play an important role in nature -- not least of which is keeping smaller, often pesky, animal populations in check. But you would never know that from reading today’s Chicago Tribune.
Instead, in what can only be described as a headline in search of a story, the Tribune breathlessly declares “First coyotes, then wolves, cougars and bears?” Reading the story you would think that Chicago was on the cusp of an invasion by large toothy carnivores just waiting to cause trouble.
“Coyotes,” asserts the story “have for years been common around Chicago but still don't always fit in so well.” What evidence does the story provide to back up this predetermined narrative? Well, none. Instead we are treated to a single anecdote of a Yorkshire terrier, killed by a coyote in Wheaton last month and a quote by a trapper who gets paid to trap coyotes. Unsurprisingly, he says we may need to trap more coyotes. Missing were other anecdotes showing that Chicagoans greatly value their coyotes. Has the Tribune forgotten “Holly,” a coyote stuck floating on a tiny ice flow in Belmont Harbor, that the Chicago Fire Department sent a boat to rescue?
Also completely absent from the story is any discussion of the numerous benefits that coyotes provide, both in urban environments and more generally. Do we really want to trade fewer coyotes for more rats?
Nor does the story tell the reader -- despite quoting the expert whose studies show this -- that coyotes almost never kill people’s pets. In 2007, 1,400 scat samples taken from coyotes in Chicago showed the presence of...wait for it…one cat. And that could have been a stray. Buried at the end is the fact that coyote populations in Chicago are actually declining.
As the headline suggest, the Tribune also spends considerable time warning that mountain lions, bears, and wolves may soon join coyotes wandering the streets of Chicago. But here’s the thing: there have been very few siting of these animals near Chicago. In fact, the city itself has seen one mountain lion. That’s it. And in all of Illinois only three mountain lions and seven wolves have ever been confirmed in the last twelve years.
Not that having more of these animals in Illinois would be a bad thing. They would provide great ecological benefits to us all and would cause few conflicts with people. Minnesota boasts almost 3,000 wolves, but the last I heard they weren’t roaming the streets of Minneapolis. Not that you would know that from reading today’s Tribune.