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For the better part of a decade, a lone coyote named Frankie has made his home in a small patch of forest in central Queens. Wedged uncomfortably between a dense residential neighborhood and the tracks of the Long Island Rail Road, his park is not the ideal habitat. It's maybe four blocks at its widest. On one side are high-rise housing developments, and on the other, within a block, pizza parlors and corner stores make up a busy commercial district. It's not much better inside, either. Stands of locust grow thick as cotton batting, and it's dim even at midday. Thorny branches of barberry and wild rose run along the ground like concertina wire.

For an animal that prefers wide-open spaces — an animal that evolved on the Western plains — Frankie's park is all wrong. Before 1900, the coyote's range was limited to a band of territory in the Southwest and Northern Midwest of the continent. They had no use for the raveled deciduous forest of the Northeast.

Over the past century, coyotes have more than quadrupled that original range, colonizing almost the entire continent, from Panama to Alaska. It's an enormous swath of territory encompassing every kind of habitat imaginable, from Southeastern forests to subtropical jungles and Canadian taiga. In the past, the northern part of this range was patrolled by gray wolves, the coyote's direct competitor. Part of the coyote's success comes from the extirpation of the wolf, done in mostly by government eradication programs a century ago.

But the coyotes' spread also has to do with their staggering adaptability and resilience. Targeted for killing, they quickly learn to outwit traps and sniff out poisons. They can vary their food sources almost limitlessly, from small mammals to large ungulates to fruits and vegetables or garbage. When extermination campaigns thin their numbers, their social structure morphs; packs that might otherwise hang together split up, spread out, and colonize new areas. They even adjust their litter sizes, seemingly at will, giving birth to more pups when population levels fall.

Unlike bears and raptors, which have rebounded in recent decades, coyotes haven't thrived because of human efforts but in spite of them. In Utah, the state pays a $50 bounty per head. In much of the country, they're still regarded as pests; at least 400,000 are killed annually. There are all-day contests that end with thumbs-up grins over heaps of bloodied carcasses. Even in New York they're classified as "nuisance animals." Under state regulations, hunters can kill as many coyotes as they like, using virtually any method, day or night, for six months out of the year. Squirrels, by contrast, have a daily bag limit of six, and a shorter hunting season to boot.

Still, the coyotes are winning. The first confirmed sighting in New York City came in 1995. In 1999, a coyote showed up in Central Park, landing on the nightly news. There were other early sightings, too. A coyote was spotted on an ice floe in Jamaica Bay in 2004. In 2014 a coyote showed up by the World Trade Center. Last year, one appeared on the roof of a bar in Long Island City.

As it turns out, the coyote's saga is coming to a climax, right now, in our backyards. Having colonized virtually every square mile of the continent, the only large landmass they haven't yet settled fully is Long Island. And that is poised to change very soon. Frankie, then, in Queens, is on the farthest leading edge of his species. If past estimates of rate expansion hold up, his kind could reach Montauk in a decade, and the conquest will be complete.

full: http://www.villagevoice.com/news/how-coyotes-conquered-new-york-9207914
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