Eastern coyote sighting confirmed in Edgartown

The first live sighting in three years.

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This photo shows a coyote on the north shore of Martha's Vineyard in 2011 - Photo courtesy Liz Olson

The second sighting of a live Eastern coyote was confirmed at midnight Wednesday, according to wildlife biologist Gus Ben David.

The coyote, a fully grown adult, was captured on an Island resident’s camcorder in Edgartown, according to Ben David — a departure from all other previous Vineyard sightings, which have been on the north shore. The last confirmed live coyote sighting was three years ago.

Coyotes are common on the Cape, and have been sighted on each of the Elizabeth Islands, with a permanent population on Naushon. Ben David said the photographed coyote is most likely from Naushon or the Cape. He added it is “almost impossible” that it was brought over by a human. “They’re vicious when they’re cornered or in a cage,” Ben David said.

Ben David said coyotes frequently wander, and are highly territorial. Their range fluctuates depending on the availability of food. The more food, the smaller their range; the less food, the bigger the range. “Young males [look] for their own territory. They get displaced by the adults, so they emigrate out,” Ben David said.

Coyotes are excellent swimmers, and will take to the water if looking for new territory, sometimes swimming multiple miles.

A coyote population on the Vineyard could wreak havoc on livestock and natural wildlife. “Everybody is free-ranging poultry, we have hundreds of goats that are being used to clear land, you have people that have sheep,” Ben David said. “If you got a viable population of coyotes on the Island, they would really cause irreparable harm to people with livestock, plus negatively affect our native wildlife.”

Ben David said many years ago there were large flocks of sheep on Naushon, both domestic and wild. The main livestock flock was close to 150, and the wild flocks numbered close to 300. Once coyotes made a home on the Island, the sheep population sharply declined. Now any sheep on Naushon are carefully locked up in pens at night.

Ben David encourages people to reach out to him if they spot a coyote or capture one on video. When coyotes are spotted, Ben David notifies state wildlife officials immediately, to keep track of sightings and population numbers.

“Most hunters and sportsmen will shoot one when they see it, because they know the potential harm that that animal can cause on the Vineyard,” Ben David said.

The positives of a coyote population on the Island would be hard to argue, especially when taking into account the Vineyard’s prominent farming community.

“Most likely it would be just negatives in our situation,” Ben David said. “But in the perspective of the universe, this animal got here in a natural way, so who knows?”

Another view of the Eastern coyote taken by a field camera in 2011. – Photo courtesy Liz Olson

While there’s only been one confirmed sighting in a few years, Ben David said pet owners who are concerned about their animals should be practical. “We know we have one [coyote] here,” Ben David said. “Use common sense. Don’t let them go wandering out at night.”

Aside from knowing there’s definitely a coyote wandering around the Vineyard, Ben David says, there’s not much more anyone can do.

“Let’s just see what happens with this situation,” he said.

8 COMMENTS

  1. i would just like to add that here in falmouth we have “tons” of coyotes. i have seen them in my yard in the early morning, in the neighborhood mid morning, mid afternoon, dusk and of course, we often hear them at night. they will kill cats, rabbits, chickens, even small dogs. once, on my way home i was stopped by a neighbor who had chased a coyote away as the coyote was attacking a small dog that was being walked on it’s leash! i just wanted to add this as i know it’s not just at night that coyotes are out and about.

  2. That is very true…Oceanna…I lived in W. Yarmouth for 10 years in a very populated normal neighborhood. They would walk down the middle of our street regularly during the middle of the day. I was even chased off a well know golf course by an aggressive one on a dog walk once..It was terrifying! I have no doubt we lost a cat to one when we first moved to the neighborhood before we were aware of them…I live in Edgartown and will be keeping my cat inside until this one is found. Although I don’t understand why they won’t pin point the sightings for us…I know they roam long distances, and just because it was in one place today doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow…But at least we would have some guess of where to be more diligent on dog walks etc…

  3. Wild animals have the right (and no choice) to share the environment that humans can encroached on. The consequences of exterminating wild animals are many not the least of which is to put the environment out of balance which then encourages even more human re engineering of the environment. Roads, fences, laws, chemicals are not created by nature we at the top of the food chain and shepherds of this planet must learn to live in harmony with nature not seek to dominate it.

    • Old man. This is nonsense. Wild animals do not have rights. We should be good stewards but not because animals have rights. Who gave them these rights.? If Coyotes are running around killing domestic pets of course we should try to get rid of the coyotes. If you were a sheep farmer of course you would.

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