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?”
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.