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Cape Cod is "Coyote country"

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Photography by Dr. Jonathan Way

Trull cites an account of Martin Pring’s 1603 visit to Cape Cod where the English explorer mentions wolves and foxes. At that time there were reports in the region of “deer wolf” or “the Indian dog,” which resembled more of a shrewd, savvy wolf than the smaller Western coyote. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans used these animals to aid in hunting, offering food as a reward, but Trull writes that the animals would not be considered “tame” by modern standards.

In his book, Trull argues that prior to the famous Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804, coyotes and wolves were both called “wolf.” “It was Lewis and Clark . . .” Trull writes, “who first separated by distinction the brush wolf of open habitats from the larger timber wolves of the mountainous West.” The “brush wolf” would later be called “coyote.”

Many years have passed since wolves have called New England—and the East coast of Massachusetts—home. But how long have coyotes frolicked here, or at least on Cape Cod? Trull writes that in 1985 an officer at the Otis Air Force Base discovered an active coyote den; this was the first recorded finding of its kind on the Cape.

“Some people say they crossed the bridge or that they swam across the canal,” adds Wightman. “I’ve heard speculation that they may have been brought over by people staying at [the base]. All that matters is they are here now.”

In 2014, Deborah Robbins Millman, director of the Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable, helped raise an orphaned coyote pup that had been rescued that spring. “We got a call that there was a litter of coyote pups under someone’s shed that [wasn’t] doing well,” she says. “Of the six, two survived: one male and one female.” It was speculated the mother had been hit by a car, or had left the pups, thinking they would not be viable. “Sometimes we just don’t know why,” Millman says, “but in this part of the country the most common cause of death for coyotes is by vehicle collision.”

Just days old, the male pup died shortly after arriving at the center; the female was nursed to health. “We took a great deal of care minimizing human contact so that the pup wouldn’t be accustomed to humans,” Millman says. Volunteers wore gowns and gloves, and were careful to keep talking to a minimum while handling, medicating and bottle-feeding the pup.

Eventually, the pup was deemed “un-releasable” because it was thought she might not have developed a healthy aversion to humans. The animal was placed in a wildlife rehabilitation facility off Cape to be raised with other young coyotes. “It’s our goal to not get attached,” Millman says, “but we don’t get a lot of coyotes in so we were all fascinated by this beautiful animal. We were happy to send her off healthy, knowing that being with the other coyotes was best for her.”

Of course, many similarly cute and cuddly Cape Cod cats and dogs have met their fateful end courtesy of full-grown coyotes. Cubby, the rooftop cat mentioned earlier, later fell prey to a coyote.

With more than 20 years of experience in this field, Millman offers some perspective for residents and pet owners. “Coyotes are opportunistic predators with a healthy aversion to humans,” Millman says. “Most problems are caused when people feed them.” She says a healthy coyote passing by is unlikely to approach a human, yet she advises household pets be kept either indoors or on a leash. “If you see a coyote, make a loud noise, wave your arms, and they will get scared off. Never approach them,” Millman says. “The Cape is home to beautiful wildlife. Use caution and respect them from a distance.”

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