P22, aka The Griffith Park Mountain Lion, is Los Angeles’ most famous monitored predator. He made the news recently when he wandered out of the hills of Griffith Park and into the basement of someone’s home. Thankfully, P22 came out of the basement on its own and returned to the hills, but the story reminds us that urban carnivores are present right in our backyard.
A few days after P22 became front page news, I attended a lecture about how a growing population of coyotes live among millions of people in Chicago. Professor Stan Gehrt of Ohio State University presented some of the findings from a study of Chicago’s coyote population which he and a team of researchers began in 2000. Gehrt refers to coyotes as “ghost dogs.”
“Coyotes were not part of the urban fauna of Chicago…their success in the urban landscape depends on their ability to hide from us. They are trying to be ghosts while they live with us.”
Gehrt unfolded an amazing wildlife story about how coyotes have managed to colonize metropolitan Chicago and live in close proximity with people. Despite a common fear and perception that coyotes will harm us and our pets, coyotes will stay out of human sight to avoid interactions with us whenever possible.
Statistically, coyotes are more likely to fall victim from human interventions (e.g., cars, trappings) than the other way around.
I was captivated by videos showing coyotes roaming the city at night, alone or with a mate, and Gehrt’s stories about the study’s first female and her mate, which researchers nicknamed “Melon Head.” Most importantly, I listened as Gehrt and four other wildlife biologists, who joined him for the lecture’s Q&A, urged the audience to appreciate predation. Coyotes, mountain lions, foxes and other predators are valued for restoring balance to the urban ecosystem by keeping other animal populations in check.
P22 and Melon Head have learned to adapt their behaviors in order to co-exist in an environment made up of diverse species and habitats. Surely, we can learn how to do the same.