Park staff finds<br>chaotic coyote situation

GC VILLAGE — Wild dogs, biting squirrels and a bull elk that always seems to get himself in trouble have kept Grand Canyon National Park’s wildlife staff and rangers fairly busy over the past six months. The latest wildlife concern for park staff revolves around coyotes mingling with tourists in the East Rim area.

This coyote was found roaming around on State Route 64 north of the park’s South Entrance Station Saturday morning during light snowfall. (Photo by Scott Woods/GC Photography for GCN)

"Wildlife-human conflicts have increased significantly over the course of the last several months in the park," GCNP wildlife biologist Elaine Leslie said. "Along East Rim Drive, coyotes have become habituated to humans and food handouts by approaching visitors on a repeated basis and being reinforced with food."

Last week, Leslie relocated four coyotes to remote areas of the park, although one of those did not survive.

"One coyote was a young male, the suspected parent of a family of pups," Leslie said. "As coyotes are very social animals and parents rely on each other to feed and rear pups, the structure of this family unit has been disrupted, compromising the survival of pups."

The practice of relocating coyotes to other parts of the park or directly reducing the pack have become the only options when aversive conditioning fails. But Leslie points out that the risks of habituated coyotes to humans can be great with rabies, plague or injuries. And the risk to wildlife is fatal.

"As hard as it is to accept direct reduction, sometimes this is the most humane method available for the target species," Leslie said.

When animals are relocated, various problems often arise, such as competition with their counterparts.

"As with coyotes, if a dominant animal is relocated into another coyote’s territory, the competition is likely fatal for one of the animals," Leslie said. "And that is only if the relocated animal survives the chemical immobilization and does not suffer from capture myopathy."

Leslie said park staff has heard many comments such as, "these are only coyotes and there are plenty of them out there, we won’t miss a few." However, national parks take native wildlife protection seriously.

"Our role and function in a national park is to preserve and protect native species," Leslie said. "As coyotes are the only remaining canid in the park, they serve a vital role and function in the ecosystem and this is deserving of appreciation and protection."

The last wolf killed in Grand Canyon National Park was in 1935. Leslie said no real scientific data exists for the coyote population in northern Arizona.

The park did just recently receive funding from Grand Canyon National Park Foundation to deal with coyote incidents. Leslie said "in order to prevent more incidents of this nature, aversive conditioning must be started early and with consistency," something that can occur with the GCNPF grant.

"This cannot come at a better time for the park as visitation is increasing and wildlife such as coyotes are rearing the spring’s young," Leslie said.

Leslie said funding will allow the park to effectively address other wildlife-human conflicts such as the satellite bull elk in the residential area, biting squirrels and searches for lion caches in the developed zone.

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