West Tisbury farmer spots coyote harassing chickens

This file photo provided by the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife shows an example of an Eastern coyote. — Photo courtesy of Fisheries and Wildlife

Richard Andre, owner of Cleveland Farm, said there is no doubt that the animal he and others have seen in the immediate vicinity of his farm off Old County Road in West Tisbury is a coyote. He said he is familiar with coyotes and their distinctive cries.

“I saw it Saturday and Sunday, my wife saw it Saturday, Sunday, Monday, my farm intern saw it Friday,” Mr. Andre said. “It was multiple, multiple sightings. There is no question about it.”

Mr. Andre suspects the coyote could be linked to a report last year of a coyote in the Seven Gates Farm subdivision in West Tisbury. He said a nearby sheep farmer reported hearing a coyote last summer, so the general direction points to a link.

The sound of a coyote is very distinctive, he said, “Very human-like.”

Mr. Andre said he raises chickens, but the coyote has not eaten any animals. “He’s just curious right now,” he said. As a precaution he has begun locking up his chickens at night.

Any evidence of a coyote should be of great concern to the agricultural community, Mr. Andre said, adding that their presence would require a major adjustment. Animals and pets would need to be much more closely watched.

Mr. Andre said the coyote has been coming out at dusk and moving up and down his property line next to the wood line. He said that if presented with the opportunity he would try to shoot the animal.

Mr. Andre said he reported the sightings to the West Tisbury animal control officer and to Gus Ben David, a well-known Island naturalist and the former director of Mass Audubon’s Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary.

The eastern coyote moved into the central and western regions of Massachusetts in the 1950s and now lives in every town in Massachusetts, except for those on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, according to Mass Wildlife. That includes the nearby Elizabeth Islands where they have dramatically affected the deer population and proved a threat to livestock.

Although there have been rumors of coyotes on Martha’s Vineyard there has been no official confirmation by state wildlife officials of their existence on the Island.

In April 2010, The Vineyard Gazette published a report that a group of homeowners in Seven Gates who suspected the presence of a coyote had sent droppings to a California laboratory to be analyzed.

The story did not identify the homeowners or the laboratory, but it did say the DNA results were 97 percent positive for a coyote.

In a telephone conversation Wednesday, Mr. Ben David said he did see a photo captured on a trail camera set up in Seven Gates. “The picture was very fuzzy, but I could definitely make out the muzzle,” he said. “We definitely had a coyote on Martha’s Vineyard.”

Mr. Ben David said Mr. Andre is a credible witness. “A coyote is a coyote and he’s seen it under perfect lighting, plus some of his staff has seen it,” he said. “So here we go again. We now know that we have one. Do we have any more? We don’t know.”

Mr. Ben David said there is no way to know if the coyote Mr. Andre saw is the same animal thought to have been living in Seven Gates. But he is sure of one thing. “We don’t want those animals established here,” he said. “They just wreak havoc when they get to an area, especially where you have agriculture.”

Coyotes may be hunted from October 15, 2011 to March 8, 2012. However, a farmer can shoot a coyote if it is threatening his livestock, according to wildlife officials.