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Activity 5: Urban Coyote Case Study

Activity Description

This lesson follows a similar format to the previous shorebird case study.  However, the coyote issue is much more polarizing since to some degree coyotes pose a threat to public safety and property (it should be noted that the only coyote attacks on people in the US have been by rabid individuals).  Still, as coyotes habituate to humans -- aided by certain people encouraging coyotes to lose their fear of people by feeding -- the probability of a person being attacked is not zero.

At the same time, many people enjoy having a medium-sized predator in their neighborhoods -- a reminder of the natural world -- and posit that the threat from wild animals pales in comparison to the magnitude other threats of modern life that we have grown accustomed to: crime, vehicular accidents, poor nutrition, etc..  Coyotes are one of the few mammalian carnivores that can survive in urban areas and they can play an important role in the ecosystem.

The lesson consists of 6 articles which the studetns read in groups and discuss.  They then join a class discussion on the topic.  Some videos of local coyotes can also be shown from my own research.

Estimated Time of Activity: 3 hours

Activity Objectives

Students will be able do the following as a result of the activity:

1. Be familiar with the ecology and historical range expansion of the eastern coyote

2. Understand the human dimensions issue regarding coyotes in the NYC and other urban areas

3. Argue their opinions and provide general management recommendations regarding coyotes

Activity Prerequisites

The earlier lessons on wildlife value sets up the studens to think about the two case studies.  However, most students can still follow the point of this lesson with just a quick introduction.

Activity Instructions

This lesson is scheduled for 2 class days.  There are 6 articles and a few videos.  Additional materials on urban coyotes are easily found on the web.  Depending on the reading level of your class, you might need to fill more time.  Any movies or additional articles will help.  There are many articles that can be found with very different views on coyotes in urban areas (ranging in tone from “Coyotes are pests” to “Coyotes are the perfect angels of Gaia”) 

In general, this lesson generates a lot of student interest and discussion.  It can lead to additional projects if you wish or if, for example, a field trip is canceled.  A larger project of writing a “NYC Coyote Policy” or a “Coyotes in NYC” info brochure can be inserted easily to extend the lesson.  I have not tested it but I think a mock town hall meeting on coyotes could be quite useful as well.

Guest speakers are also a great way to get students interested in these topics.  Troll the faculty pages of local universities and call up any urban wildife professors.  Most of them are happy to talk to young people who are interested in animals.

1. Students should read Article 1, “The Coyote in New York State” for homework before the day of the class (link above or use print out).  It is a general life history and ecology article on the coyote to prep the students on the species before they read more in-depth articles.

2. At beginning of class (or after Article 1), ask students what they learned about coyotes from Article 1.  It might help to build a life history on the board, or, better yet, as a class fill in a coyote sheet for the field guide. 

3. Show slideshow of coyote video and pictures taken from field cameras in Westchester, NY Parks (these videos came from a 2010 study CN worked on) and watch Coyotes in Chicago video

4. Split into groups and read Articles 2, 3, 4, and 5 read in class (also provide each group a copy of Article 1 for reference if they did not print it), and discuss in groups the following questions:

Describe the situation regarding urban coyotes, from:

1) a biological and ecological perspective http://pharmaciemg.f....ine/.  What is scientifically interesting about coyotes (if anything)?  What effects do coyotes have on the food web in New York State?

2) a wildlife management perspective.  What should managers do regarding coyotes, if anything?  Are they a problem in some way?  Should there be a hunting season?  Should they be eradicated?  Is it worth the cost?

3) human safety and cultural perspective.  What do people seem to think about coyotes?  Is there debate about it?  Describe the sides of the debate and their points.  What do you think about these arguments? How might you describe your point of view to someone new to the issue?

5. Read article 5

  1. What do you think wildlife managers should do regarding coyotes in New York City?  Is there something about an urban area like NYC that makes it special with regard to how coyotes should be managed?  (ie, is it ok for coyotes to live upstate but not here? Why or why not?)

A class discussion should be done after each set of articles to share opinions.  The NYC-focused set can probably be done as a class alone if you wish.  Or, split the group discussion for one day and the class discussion for the next session.

The teacher should lead the discussion in terms of adding questions to the mix, eg, if students say coyotes are dangerous, ask if they think more kids/pets, etc. are killed by cars or coyotes?; if they say coyotes are not dangerous, ask if they would like to let their cat out in the yard if they saw a coyote.


Most of the assessment will come from the students' participation in the discussions.


Article links:

Article 1:


Article 2:


Article 3 :


Article 4 :


Article 5:


Article 6:


Coyote picture from Hutchinson Parkway

Coyote Picture from CN's camera trap in Yonkers NY

Coyote Picture from woods in south Bronx

Movie links coming soon


Instructor’s Notes

The issue is a complicated one and a good discussion will incorporate different points of view, consider multiple cultural values, and the role of biologists and managers in serving the public and whether wildlife has a “right” to share space – urban or otherwise –with humans and/or whether humans can even really do anything about it even if they wish to.  The learning goals here are not concrete, but it is important to get the students to form a beginning opinion from a few factual yet potentially contradictory articles and be able to discuss their ideas, and modify their opinions after thought and communication with others.  Wildlife management is not easy, because ecology is not easy and human dimensions management is even harder.


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