By Nicole Hennessy
Freshly built suburbs have a sterile feel. It takes decades for them to grow into their surroundings, people eventually forgetting there was a time they weren’t there, but forests filled with animals now considered to be pests or no longer found in the area at all.
The wildlife that stuck around or came back is accustomed to parking lots and playgrounds, traffic and landscaping. But these things no longer deter them from establishing territory. In fact, within the past few years, the coyote population has increased in the Westshore area. These animals, living in populated areas, are referred to as urbanized. And, as they are predators, their presence makes residents wary.
And, as they are predators, their presence helps solve the incredibly high deer population, trying to survive off of chemical-infested bushes or in the Metroparks. Not native to Ohio, coyotes are now present in all 88 counties, which shows their ability to adapt, something they are known for.
Westlake animal control officer Jim Wang said that since we don’t have many forested areas anymore, “they just live in the landscape we provide for them.”
Also, known to avoid humans, being urbanized really just means their territories are smaller. What would be a 50-mile radius in which they once survived can be as small as one mile in suburban areas.
Wang said there haven’t been many problems, and that he gets the most calls in the spring, from residents finding the remains of young deer.
“They get upset with stuff like that,” said Wang.
He advised people to be careful in keeping small dogs and cats outside, but he doesn’t really see coyotes as a threat.
“There’s nothing we can do about it,” he added. “They’re not gonna go away.”
He advises people who come in contact with any predator to make a lot of noise, wave their hands and “seem larger.” These are common tactics to scare away many animals.
How to co-exist with these creatures is something that should be explored, but the underlying cause of urbanized animals is a lot more interesting.
The loss of natural habitat is definitely a factor, and, as Wang implied, their ability to adapt to modern cities and suburbs not only provides insight into their survival instincts, but our culture.
In Chicago, researchers discovered that coyotes understand traffic patterns, looking in only one direction when crossing one-way streets and so on.
In Northeast Ohio, they are the largest existing predator – which in the end is a good thing. Without predators, animal populations can grow too large.
There are still subtle reminders that 95 percent of Ohio once was forested.
For example, in Lakewood, the sidewalk winds around an enormous white oak. Standing since at least 1796, when Moses Cleaveland arrived, it is designated with a plaque that reads, “This is a Moses Cleaveland Tree. It was standing here as part of the original forest when Moses Cleaveland landed at the Mouth of the Cuyahoga River, July 22, 1796. Let us preserve it as a living memorial to the first settlers of the Western Reserve.” There are 150 of these trees throughout Cuyahoga County.
But mostly, there are sightings of wildlife in populated areas — a reminder of more and more development.