Think you've heard about strange methods of rodent control? Think again.
In downtown Chicago, coyotes can be seen running the streets, not chasing people—it seems they couldn't have less interest in us. They're just doing their job: chasing rats and voles, and other small rodents.
Cook County has more than 60 coyotes roaming parks, yards, and roadways in search of rodents. They're fitted with radio collars and are part of what the Coyote Project, with more than 300 coyotes captured, calls "the largest urban study of coyotes in the world."
The Coyote Project explains the value of their research:
This allows us to peek into the hidden lives of urban coyotes. We use results from this unique project to answer common questions regarding coyotes in urban areas. Many aspects of coyote ecology have direct management implications. Although our study was focused on Cook County, Illinois, we believe the things we have learned about coyotes and people living together are indicative of many metropolitan areas in the Midwest and eastern United States.
NPR reports the project's first animal is "Big Mama," caught in 2000.
"She was a young, transient coyote that was not a member of a group," says Dr. Stan Gehrt of Ohio State who directs the project. By 2002, she had settled down with an uncollared male friend (called, less warmly, "Number 115"), in a heavily-developed area a few miles from O'Hare International Airport. Together Mama and 115 have had at least six litters, producing 45 babies... People hardly ever see them...
"They are similar to many married couples," the project's website says, "where at times they are inseparable, and other times they take short breaks from each other, but they have defended the same territory together continuously."
The project has been successful so far—coyotes keep to themselves almost exclusively, with few human encounters reported in all these years. That's not to say there are no incidents at all:
The most famous encounter happened in 2007 when an otherwise calm coyote walked into a Quizno's sandwich shop in downtown Chicago, and apparently confused (or hot), hopped into a refrigerated case and sat quietly in the fruit juice section.
"It wasn't aggressive at all," restaurant manager Bina Patel told the Chicago Tribune. "It was just looking around." Police came and moved that coyote to someplace safer. Probably a park.
Chicago isn't the first or only outlet to take advantage of coyotes' natural lifestyles: the Fund for Animals points out that cattle ranchers in the West "welcome coyotes on their lands as a way of controlling the burrowing rodents whose holes have injured many cows and horses during round-up time;" and farmers have been known to let coyotes roam fields prone to large insect manifestations—and saved their farms.