Tracking JP Coyotes

May 19, 2008
By

JOHN RUCH


File Photo by Bob Mayer
A Greenough Avenue resident captured this photo of a coyote in his front yard on Jan. 17, 2005 and sent it to the Gazette. Now local coyotes can also be found on the web.

Local web site maps sightings

Shy and furtive—except in the rare moments when they’re caught eating a neighborhood pet—wild coyotes are among Jamaica Plain’s most invisible residents.

But they’re out there, almost certainly living in Arnold Arboretum and possibly other wooded areas.

Now a local journalism student—who himself has never seen a coyote in the wild—is mapping local sightings on the new “J.P. Coyotes” web site at www.JamaicaPlainCoyotes.com.

Forest Hills resident Jonathan Berk is earning a master’s degree in journalism at Boston University. His interest in science and nature writing and the requirements of a course in multimedia journalism combined in the web site, which went live last month.

“I run in the arboretum, so I had seen the warning signs on a couple of the entrances,” Berk said in a Gazette interview, referring to warnings that illegally off-leash dogs might end up tangling with coyotes. “So I just thought it would be an interesting idea to see if I could find out where they’d been seen.”

He said he was disappointed at the difficulty of finding JP-specific reports, and the lack of detail in most reports. His site currently includes about a half-dozen local sightings, each marked on a map with a paw print. Clicking on the paw brings up information about the sighting.

They include the infamous 2005 incident where a coyote sneaked into a fenced-in Moss Hill back yard and killed a West Highland terrier as the pet’s owner watched in horror. That incident put JP coyotes on the map, so to speak.

The site also includes video footage of wild coyotes—useful for anyone who, like Brooklyn-born Berk, hasn’t seen one before. And there are interviews with Jonathan Way, a Cape Cod expert in the region’s urban coyotes.

“I think what was most interesting was how common the phenomenon of urban coyotes is,” Berk said of his reporting. Quoting Way, he said he was struck by “how natural it is for them to be here—for them.”

Berk said he was also interested to learn about evidence that New England’s coyotes may be partly interbred with wolves.

Of course, this image of the lurking, wolf-like, territorial predator leads to fear and controversy. Some people call for trapping or extermination of urban coyotes. Others call for living in harmony.

Berk said “J.P. Coyotes” is intended as a neutral source of information. But, he acknowledged, “My inclination is for us to want to be able to live with them.”

“My site doesn’t present them in any menacing way,” he said. “I don’t show big fangs with dripping blood.”

Part of Berk’s difficulty in finding sighting reports is that there has been no specific forum for non-violent coyote encounters. “J.P. Coyotes” may well fill that role.

The Gazette has reported various peaceful sightings in recent years, including a well-documented 2005 case where a coyote trotted down Greenough Avenue on Sumner Hill past a resident shoveling snow.

This reporter has spotted coyotes twice in JP within the past year. About a year ago, a coyote walked along South Street at the Arborway, heading under the Casey Overpass toward the arboretum.

About three months ago, this reporter, joined by a daredevil neighborhood cat, observed a coyote walking down Dane Street toward Orchard Street in Pondside.

Another difficulty with tracking coyote sightings is that inexperienced observers may mistake a fox or a domestic dog for a coyote. But the videos on “J.P. Coyotes” should train anyone’s eye.

While Berk began the web site as a class project, he said he will continue to update it as an ongoing resource. To send new coyote sightings to Berk, leave a comment on his site-related blog at JamaicaPlainCoyotes.blogspot.com.

Asked if he is interested in investigating other local nature stories in this green neighborhood, Berk said, “I could see [myself] doing something else, a local nature issue. For now, JP coyotes are my niche.”

For information about living alongside coyotes, see the “Advocacy and Wildlife” section of JP-based MSCPCA-Angell’s web site at www.mspca.org.

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